The clock finally struck midnight on the Guelph Storm.
After rattling off three consecutive postseason series wins that saw the team climb back against unlikely odds, including coming out on the winning side of seven-straight elimination games, the Storm’s storybook season came to an end Friday as the team fell in defeat to the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the semi-final at the 2019 Memorial Cup presented by Kia.
Like much of their playoff success, Friday’s contest saw the Storm mount an early comeback after surrendering an early 1-0 deficit then later even the score at two a side. It then appeared yet another comeback was in the works as Guelph pulled within one with less than two minutes remaining in the final frame, only for the Huskies to drive home the victory with an empty netter.
While the Storm ends the year on a sour note, there is still much to be proud of from a resilient group that finished fourth place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference, kicking off a playoff run that began with a sweep of the rival Kitchener Rangers then saw the squad pull off the reverse sweep after initially falling into a three-game hole against the Western Conference leading London Knights. The following round, the Storm pulled off yet another miracle after trailing 3-1 versus the Saginaw Spirit to take the series in seven games, only to follow that up by eliminating the first-place Ottawa 67’s in six games after initially dropping the first two contests.
Through it all, the Storm saw top performances from a handful of players, though most impressive was centre and Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, who notched 16 goals and 26 assists to claim the Wayne Gretzky ‘99’ Award as the OHL playoff MVP after he set a Storm franchise record for points in a single playoff run.
“I think everybody was believing that we could (come back). We had no doubt in our mind that we could try to pull it off. Everyone was confident going on the ice,” Suzuki said following the semi-final loss. “It’s pretty weird right now. I think it’s going to settle in when we don’t get to go to the rink anymore. We’ve been coming to the rink each day, everyone working their butts off, so having this group every day and the whole ride throughout the playoffs was unbelievable and I couldn’t thank everybody enough.”
It was a feeling throughout the Storm locker room, as echoed by captain and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Isaac Ratcliffe.
“We had our chances to put one in with just over a minute to go and even after that we had chances. (The Huskies) were great defensively all game and they stepped up in those big minutes again and got it with a huge block and got it down the ice,” Ratcliffe said. “We battled tonight. The last 10 minutes, we were all over them but unfortunately couldn’t pot one earlier. It’s just hard to soak it all in right now to say that we are done.
“I am so proud of this group, how far we have come, everything that we have done this year. It’s tough that it ends this way. The resiliency that this group has shown all year, the character and class that they have shown in the room with each other, to the coaches, to the fans back home, and even to the fans here … I am so proud of everyone and I am really happy with what we have accomplished this year.”
The 2018-19 campaign will be remembered for one that saw the Storm capture the J. Ross Robertson Cup as the OHL playoff champions, doing so for the second time in just six seasons. Led by head coach George Burnett, in his second year with the Storm, the long-time bench boss saw plenty of positives from his group throughout the successful season.
“The last nine weeks have been quite a ride for sure, up and down, lots more ups than downs,” Burnett said. “I am so proud of the way our guys have worked, from top to bottom, big role or small. It has been a lot of fun. They are a very quality group of young guys who should be very proud of their efforts. Throughout the playoffs and here in the tournament, they represented our city well and our league, but it is disappointing to come up a little short of the final.
“I’ve been close a few times. It’s the toughest trophy in hockey to win and we’re not going to get a chance to play for it after tonight. But I don’t want that to take away from (anything). This isn’t about me. This is about our group and everybody who contributed to it, whether they are a trainer, scout, or player, young or old. A lot of kids are going to learn from this experience, and I know that we’ll make them better going forward, if they are turning pro or if they are coming back next year to lead the way for a young club.”