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"He's just got a beautiful way of making plays"

Rookie Ryan Merkley sets up three goals with beautiful passes as Guelph Storm opens second half with overtime win

Get open and Ryan Merkley will find you.

That’s starting to click in for the rest of the Guelph Storm players, as the ultra-talented rookie defenceman made three brilliant passes to set up goals in a 4-3 win over the Sarnia Sting Wednesday night at the Sleeman Centre.

They included a feed to Matt Hotchkiss in the slot with 2:11 remaining in overtime for the game winner, as Merkley circled behind the Sarnia net before sliding it to Hotchkiss in the slot.

Hotchkiss made no mistake, rifling a wrist shot short side past Sting netminder Aidan Hughes.

“I was just trying to pop out for him. He’s just got a beautiful way of making plays,” Hotchkiss said.

“Merkley is a guy that when you see him going around the net with the puck like that you know he’s going to find you if you’re open,” said Hotchkiss, who had a pair of goals on the night.

The most impressive dish of the night was a seeing-eye. against-the-grain, straight-on-the-tape feed to Albert Michnac in the second period for Guelph’s first goal.

“In the corner of my eye I just saw him and when both Sarnia players came to me I just peeled off to make time and space for him. I just slid it in the area and he skated right into it,” Merkley said of the Michnac goal.

“It’s chemistry right? We’ve got to know each other pretty well now and things are getting better and better.”

Storm coach Jarrod Skalde was as impressed as everyone else by the three assists.

“They were pretty special plays,” Skalde said.

“When he starts rolling to the right good things usually happen,” the Storm coach said of Merkley’s dishes on the night. “I think our guys, after 30-plus games, are figuring out that he’ll find you.”

Skalde felt that after a sluggish start, fuelled by penalties, the team responded well and took the play to the Sting.

Anthony Popovic also got praise for his 28-save effort in the Storm net as did Nick Deakin-Poot, who scored his first goal of the season, ending a 20-game drought.

This one was a nail biter.

Guelph fell behind 2-0 in the first period then rebounded with three unanswered goals in the second period. Sarnia tied it at 3-3 on a Jaden Lindo power play goal 4:52 into the third frame.

Guelph killed off a Sting power play in the final three minutes of regulation then benefited from a rare five-on-three power play in overtime.

Sting coach Derian Hatcher clearly wasn’t thrilled with the calls – a tripping call on Jeff King that seemed legit and a checking-from-behind call on Kevin Spinozzi that was debatable.

Hatcher gave the referees the sarcastic hand clap as they exited the ice at the end of the game.

The Storm heads north this weekend for games in Sudbury on Friday and Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday. Next home game is Tuesday when the Kitchener Rangers are in town.