Anthony Popovich is looking forward to being the man between the pipes for the Guelph Storm this season.
Or at least the opportunity to prove he can be the man.
The 18-year-old Belleville native enters his second OHL season as the team’s incumbent starting netminder. The only other goaltender in camp is rookie Nico Daws.
Knowing that right now he is the team’s number one goalie definitely means a different thought process, Popovich said.
“I think it does. I think it gives me a bit of confidence and a bit of swagger, I guess. I just want to win for my team every night and if I’m in net, that’s good for me,” he said.
The mindset coming into camp this year was definitely different than last.
“Just be confident and be ready for more of a workload this year. Just keep working hard everyday and get more wins than last year.”
Monday at the Sleeman Centre Popovich backed the Storm to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Mississauga Steelheads, improving the team’s pre-season mark to 2-1.
Popovich made 30 saves in regulation then stopped all four Steelheads shooters in the shootout.
Storm newcomer Alexey Toropchenko was the lone shootout scorer, wristing one between the legs of Mississauga goaltender Emanuel Vella for the deciding tally.
Last year Popovich had moments of brilliance, but struggled overall, finishing with a 4.61 goals-against average and .876 save percentage.
This pre-season his goals-against is 2.67 and his save percentage .920.
“That’s one of the big goals for me, and for our team as well, is being more consistent over the whole game and over a stretch of games,” he said.
“It’s about working hard everyday in practice, staying focused and just taking advantage of our opportunities.
Storm coach/general manager George Burnett has been impressed with both Popovich and Daws thus far.
“He’s done nothing this week that would leave me believe that he shouldn’t continue to get the opportunity to do what he’s been doing,” Burnett said.
“Like any young player, they’re trying to prove their worth. I don’t want to make it sound like we’re searching (for another goaltender) and I don’t want to make it sound like we’re completely satisfied. It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Burnett said.
“Both have worked hard, both have done nothing wrong.”
Burnett said he’d like to see the goaltenders playing with the team’s top lineup in front of them to get a more honest assessment of them.
The team is still carrying 27 players, with eight players leaving shortly for training camp.
“I don’t know if we’ll be at 27 for too long, it’s not a great number,” Burnett said.
“We can’t have nine defencemen and 16 forwards, it just doesn’t work and the guys are well aware of that.”
Guelph’s next pre-season action isn’t until Sept. 14 at home against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The regular season opens Sept. 22 at home versus Saginaw.