There's a new star at the Sleeman Centre and he put on a show Saturday night in the Guelph Storm's home opener.
Sasha Pastujov, a highly-regarded 18-year-old winger who landed in Guelph's lap unexpectedly over the summer, scored three times to deliver a fine first impression for the 2,850 in attendance.
It wasn't quite enough as the Kitchener Rangers rallied from behind to down Guelph 5-4. Justin Nolet scored the winner with 1:02 left in regulation.
Considered a first round talent in the 2019 OHL draft, the Storm took a flyer on Pastujov in the 14th round because it seemed pretty certain he was going to follow two hockey playing brothers and play NCAA hockey, in his case at Notre Dame.
But after being drafted by the NHL's Anaheim Ducks in the fifth round this year, they and the Pastujov family and his agent decided to come to the OHL.
"There were a lot of factors going into it," Pastujov said of the decision to come to Guelph. "I'd been committed to Notre Dame since I was a freshman in high school and I have the utmost respect for that school. But in terms of hockey the decision was to come here and develop here, all with the goal of playing for the Anaheim Ducks some day."
The Florida native said Anaheim gave him options but the final decision was his.
"I want to make hockey my career at some point in my life and this gives me the best chance to get there."
Early impressions of Guelph have been positive.
"It's been great. The guys have been great and my billet family, well I couldn't ask for anything more of them."
Pastujov said he's already noticed a difference in the style of play than what he was used to playing with the US national junior program the past two seasons.
"Yeah, it's different. It's high tempo, there's a lot of goals. With that means there's a lot of defending. It's a change of pace but it's something I'm going to get used to each game and get into the flow each game," he said.
Storm coach/general manager said the Storm continued to talk with Pastujov's representatives since he was drafted.
"We were excited to know it was an opportunity to be here and he seems excited to be here," Burnett said.
"Had there been any indication (he was coming to the OHL) he would likely have been a first round pick in our league," Burnett said. "You take a bit of flyer."
Burnett said the team lost one, maybe two, other unnamed American players they own the rights to due to the pandemic. He said they would likely have been in Guelph had things been normal.
"We're excited to have him here. He seems to be a real solid young man and we know there's lots of good stuff coming ahead."
Guelph came out flying Saturday night, scoring twice in a span of 1:40 midway through the opening frame to take a 2-0 lead into the second.
It was 3-2 Guelph after the second period, with Kitchener taking a 4-3 lead, the fourth goal coming with three minutes left in regulation.
Pastujov's third of the night – a rocket of a slap shot from near the blue line that found the top corner behind Kitchener goaltender Jackson Parsons, tied the game with 2:15 on the clock.
But with time winding down Guelph got lost on some defensive assignments down low in their own zone and Nolet came in from the blueline to slide the winner past Storm goaltender Owen Bennett.
"Nice to see our guys battle battle back and tie it up, but there were some tired mistakes tonight and we weren't good enough to get the job done," Burnett said.
"We're a young team with a room to grow and it's early in the season," Pastujov said of the loss. "We're going to watch it next week, we're going to learn from it, and we're going to be stronger in Owen Sound."
Guelph hits the road Wednesday for a game in Owen Sound. Next home game is Friday, also against Owen Sound.