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Ryan Merkley's return to the Sleeman Centre is a triumphant one (9 photos)

Former number one pick of the Storm has some fun as his London Knights to a 3-1 win at the Sleeman Centre
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It was likely the first time ever a ceremonial pre-game puck drop has ever been booed at the Sleeman Centre.

It had nothing to do with the Salvation Army major or the representatives of the Zehrs grocery stores who were dropping the puck in recognition of a charity toy drive happening before Sunday's Guelph Storm game against the London Knights.

It was about a cheeky Ryan Merkley, the former Storm defenceman, who represented the Knights on the puck drop, a task that almost always goes to the team captain, in this case Liam Foudy.

It brought smiles and laughs from Merkley and Storm captain Cam Hillis, but boos from the stands. Many did not appreciate Merkley's tenure with the Storm.

Merkley would also had the last laugh as the Knights downed the Storm 3-1.

"Me and Hillis are good buddies, so we just had a good laugh. Not taking anything too serious," Merkley said after the game.

"I had to test the waters. See how it was going to be," he laughed, referring to the fan reaction.

Merkley said it's always good to play against an old team, especially one that has several good buddies on it.

"No hard feelings. I was excited, coming back and seeing everyone," he said.

It was almost exactly a year ago that the Storm traded Merkley to the Peterborough Petes in exchange for Pavel Gogolev and draft picks. He played 40 games in Peterborough before being traded to London.

Sunday was his first time back on the Sleeman Centre ice and there was a spattering of boos on several occasions.

He's having a strong season in London, recording 30 points in 24 games, and more importantly is enjoying his new team and his new town, where he is living with an aunt, uncle and two young cousins.

"It's been fun. It's been awesome. We're winning games and doing well, which is always fun," said Merkley, whose Knights are in first place in the Western Conference.

Merkley had an assist, four penalty minutes and was a plus-one on Sunday in a game that saw the Storm on its heels most of Sunday's game.

Pavel Gogolev, Guelph's lone goal scorer, said the team started the game "scared."

"I think we just came out a bit scared," said Pavel Gogolev, whose second period goal made it 2-1.

"They're a really good team, a talented team, but I don't think we're worse than them and I think next time we'll be ready."

It was the first of six games between the two teams this season.

Coach George Burnett said it was a rare off night for his top line of Gogolev, Hillis and Eric Uba.

"There haven't been too many games when I've been able to say that our big guys haven't led the way and tonight I thought they were off their game from the start," Burnett said.

The Storm had chances: three two-on-ones, a breakaway by Gogolev, a post hit by Luka Pofaca. But overall they managed just 19 shots on London goaltender Dylan Miskiw.

Not helping matters was a moribound power play that went scoreless on eight attempts, including a full four-minute advantage in the second where they didn't record a single shot on net.

"For the past couple of weeks we didn't really practice lots of power play ... some guys didn't really know what we were doing," Gogolev said.

Burnett was a little more succinct in his evaluation.

"They were working and we were standing around," he said.

Guelph plays in Owen Sound on Tuesday. They wrap up the first half of the schedule with a three-in-three weekend that sees them host Windsor Friday, Kitchener Saturday afternoon and then play in Oshawa on Sunday.

 



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