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It's been a while, but the Guelph Storm returns to action with a win (7 photos)

After not playing for a month, Guelph returns to action with a 7-4 win over the Kitchener Rangers in front of no fans at The Aud

KITCHENER – It took a while for the Guelph Storm to get their bearings Sunday after a month off, but once they did they looked like they hadn't missed a beat.

Russian winger Valentin Zhugin, the team's lone import player after defenceman Leo Hafenrichter returned to Germany in search of more playing time, led the Guelph Storm to a 7-4 victory over the Kitchener Rangers at The Aud.

It was technically the Storm's fourth straight win, although they haven't played since Dec. 18.

They also haven't practiced much of late due to COVID issues on the team that are now for the most part over.

"We're rusty, there's no doubt about it. It's hard to believe it's been a month since we've played," said Storm coach George Burnett.

"For three weeks we sat and we waited. We were healthy and ready to go but the other team wasn't," said Burnett.

"We missed a lot of playing time and a lot of practice. A lot of guys sitting on their backsides for the last week or so, and I thought it showed."

The team was missing just one player Sunday, winger Danny Zhilkin, out with COVID protocols.

That led to a hastily-concocted line of Jake Karabela, Braeden Bowman and Zhugin, who combined for three goals and eight points in the win.

With Zhugin's English not quite at interview level yet, Karabela spoke for the line.

"It's been a while and the boys were just excited to get back to playing," said Karabela. "We're healthy now and we just want to get going."

As for his new line's success, he said they hadn't really practiced together yet, but just came together when Zhilkin's absence led to some game-day line juggling.

"Zhugin's a great skill guy. A great guy. He can play with anybody," Karabela said. "Having a guy like that on the wing really helped."

Burnett said the key for Zhugin is to commit to playing as hard without the puck as he does with it.

"He can really dance on the offensive side. If he works as hard without the puck as he does with it there's a good hockey player in there who can be a very effective player at our level," Burnett said.

"He comes as advertised, he can score. It's up to us to try and convince him, teach him and work with him."

Guelph led 2-0 after the first and 5-2 after two.

Zhugin, Karabela, Bowman, Luka Profaca, Ben McFarlane, Sasha Pastujov and Ryan McGuire, with his first in the OHL, had the Storm goals.

Owen Bennett got the start in net in a game that saw Guelph finish with a 41-18 advantage on the shot clock.

Newcomers Brayden Guy and Ashton Reesor saw their first action in a Storm uniform since arriving in a trade from the Sarnia Sting. Reesor picked up an assist and delivered a big hit in the first period that Karabela said "got everybody going."

Guelph gets busy this week, if everyone remains healthy, with a make-up game against Flint at the Sleeman Centre Tuesday. Friday they host Saginaw and Saturday it's London in town.