Mark Woolley wasn’t even supposed to make the Guelph Storm this season, never mind score key goals in tight victories on a Friday night at the Sleeman Centre.
The rookie defenceman’s first OHL goal was a big one, opening the scoring in a 2-1 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs to snap the Storm’s three-game losing streak.
“I had no intention of him being on our team,” Storm coach George Burnett said after Friday’s win.
“There’s been lots of surprises, but he’s been the biggest surprise,” said Burnett.
“He had a great summer of work, he’s calm, he’s cool, he doesn’t waste a lot of energy and I think he’s got a real mean streak in him.”
The six-foot-two, 200-pound Woolley said keeping it simple is the key to any success he’s had to date.
“Confidence is building game-by-game,” he said. “I build my game off my work ethic and every game comes easier to me.
“As a young guy you don’t expect lots (of ice time), but you take what you’re given, be grateful for everything and keep working hard.”
As for his first goal, Woolley said it’s “always great to get that first one out of the way.”
Cam Hillis took the puck down the right side, deep into Hamilton territory, then found a trailing Woolley in the slot.
He took his time before firing it top shelf past Hamilton goaltender Kaden Fulcher.
“I just wanted to make sure I got it on net, first of all, then once I saw it go in I was pretty excited.”
While Woolley deservedly took some of the spotlight Friday night, the man of the hour was Storm goaltender Anthony Popovich, who made 45 saves in an outstanding performance, including stopping all 20 Bulldogs shots in the first period that saw the Storm outshot 20-2 but lead 1-0.
Cedric Ralph scored what proved to be the game winner at 2:19 of the second period, backhanding his own rebound past a prone Fulcher to make it 2-0.
Hamilton’s Arthur Kaliyev made things interesting at 3:49 of the third with a wrister from the slot that beat Popovich, but that was it for the scoring.
“He’s played well, but I think he was a difference maker tonight,” Burnett said.
Givani Smith missed his 10th straight game for the Storm as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.
The Storm plays in Saginaw Saturday night and in Sault Ste. Marie Sunday afternoon.