They were a couple of guys that weren’t even supposed to make the Guelph Storm, never mind play key roles.
Barret Kirwin and Cedric Ralph came into training camp as the odd men out.
With 10 new bodies on a crowded roster and young players looking for playing time, a couple of sub-5-foot-10 forwards who scored a combined 13 goals last season didn’t look like they fit in. Maybe – maybe – one of them. Certainly not both. And certainly not in major roles.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the waiver wire.
First, the two worked their asses off in training camp, with Kirwin leading the team in goals, scoring as many in five pre-season games as he did in 55 games a year ago.
Then they became key members of the team’s penalty kill, where smarts and speed rule, the two things the pair have plenty of.
Then they started scoring: Ralph third on the team with nine goals this season and leads the team in even-strength goals. Kirwin has a decent third-line total of 13 points. Both have outscored players drafted in the NHL draft.
But most of all they won over the only guy that really matters in coach and general manager George Burnett.
How did they win over the coach? Well, it’s time to break out the clichés.
Simply, Kirwin and Ralph do the little things right.
They never stop skating, they listen and follow instruction, they block shots, they stop on pucks, they stop at the net, the drive wide, they don’t get caught deep when they are the third forward, they don’t take dumb penalties and they keep their mouths shut.
Every coach dreams of players who check off all the things on that list.
Burnett has sung their praise many times already this year and rewarded them with ice time at key junctures of games, be it one goal ahead or one goal behind.
He uses them in virtually ever situation except the power play. They are, above all else, reliable.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the two have been two of the most consistent performers on the team this year.
Kirwin and Ralph may never be stars in this league. They may never play a game of pro hockey. Heck, they may never get off the third line.
But they will be a key role in any success the Guelph Storm has for the next two seasons.