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Guelph Storm falls short against Oshawa (7 photos)

Star defenceman Ryan Merkley rides the pine for the final minutes of a close game

Some sloppy play when it appeared the game was out of reach came back to haunt the Guelph Storm when it wasn't Friday night at the Sleeman Centre.

A late rally fell just short as the Storm ended up falling 4-3 to the Oshawa Generals. Half of Guelph's 26 games this season have now been decided by one goal.

What was perhaps the most interesting event Friday might be the fact that Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley spent the final two minutes of the game on the bench after Guelph pulled goaltender Anthony Popovich in favour of the extra attacker.

Merkley is tied for the team lead in scoring, leads all OHL defenceman with assists and is second in the league in assists.

But he had been pushed easily off the puck on Oshawa's fourth goal with 4:17 left in the period and didn't see the ice after that.

"We decided we were pushing pretty good and that's the decision we made tonight," said Storm coach George Burnett when asked about the apparent benching.

"We need Ryan. Ryan's a top player in this league and we need him at his best. It's important we get turned around and have a big game from him on Sunday."

Entering the third  trailing 2-1, the Storm made a couple of bad defensive miscues on consecutive shifts to allow the Generals to jump out to a 4-1 lead with just over four minutes left to play, one by Merkley and a bad pinch by Dmitri Samorukov.

Things got real when the Storm rallied for a pair of goals by Ty Collins and Nate Schnarr, the latter with goaltender Popovich on the bench in favour of the extra attacker, to make it a 4-3 game with 1:13 left in regulation.

Despite a couple of good chances, including a puck just out of the reach of Alexey Toropchenko that would have given him an open net to shoot at, the Storm couldn't find the equalizer.

"We didn't manage the puck very well all night long," Burnett said. "After the second period we were probably a little fortunate to still be in a close game.

Oshawa goaltender Kyle Keyser kept his team in it with some monster saves, particularly on some Storm power plays in the second period.

"We had some great chances and he made some monster saves late in the second period. There were some point-blankers and it would have been nice to tie it up there," Burnett said.

Jack Hanley had Guelph's other goal.

Guelph was missing some key personnel, with Mark Woolley (injury), Liam Hawel (illness) and Cam Hillis (suspension) out of the lineup. Hillis returns for sure on Sunday.

The Storm will play the Guelph Giants special needs hockey club in their annual charity affair Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.

Sunday the Kitchener Rangers are in town for a 2 p.m. start.