Storming their way in

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

The Guelph Storm were dead.

Their stars were struggling. They traded captain Matt Kennedy. Their best goalie, Brandon Foote, spent a half-season recovering from hip surgery. Head coach Jason Brooks was in agony with a back problem that needed steel installed as part of a corrective spinal fusion.

Beaten-down Guelph was looking up at the playoffs for the first time since its post-Dukes of Hamilton days.

"Last year, we lost 69 man-games to injury," said Brooks, not including his own woes in those stats. "This year, that number's at 239 (and counting)."

The white flag would've been easy to wave.

But something happened during the home stretch on this garbage dump of a season.

Foote tossed aside his crutches and his reborn hip helped right the ship.

The star-crossed talents who once looked so lost -- Peter Holland and Michael Latta-- came to life.

Veterans added in trades -- Ryan Gottschalk from Barrie and Chris Van Laren from Sudbury -- helped turn this thing around.

"Right after the trade deadline, I noticed a change," Brooks said. "I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of chemistry in the room. It was missing. We weren't playing together. But you bring in someone like Gottschalk, who's not the biggest name, but he's such a team guy. He and Van Laren really helped out our defence.

"And getting Footer back solidified the (goalie) position for us."

The Storm have gone 17-8-1 with Foote in the crease. That stretch allowed them to roar past the Owen Sound Attack and clinch another playoff berth with designs on vaulting up to sixth spot in the Western Conference in this the season's final week.

They won't draw an easy first-round opponent. But now, they're the team no top dog wants to play.

"We know Windsor's a powerhouse and we haven't had any success against London and that every time we play Kitchener, it's a close game," Brooks said. "When you're on the outside, yeah, the goal's to get in the playoffs, but we knew, the way we were playing, we still had the chance to be a higher seed."

It's about belief.

Guelph alumnus Drew Doughty didn't accept being Team Canada's seventh D-man at the Olympics. He ended up one of their best and was on the ice when Sidney Crosby scored.

In the CTV booth, Storm co-owner Chris Cuthbert was there to voice what will forever be his signature call.

"The Golden Goal," Brooks said.

"We're so proud to be associated with both of them. Drew, nothing fazes him. And Chris, I know how hard he worked and how long he waited to get that opportunity."

You can start way down the ladder. You can come so far.

And that, of course, only makes the victories all the more sweeter.

AROUND THE OHL

Star Trooper Cody Hodgson came back to Brampton for a good time, not a long time. He played 13 games since his return from back woes. Brampton went 7-4-2 and he had eight goals and 20 points. Now, he's out again with a broken toe from blocking a shot. But beware, Doug Gilmour's Kingston Frontenacs, Hodgson vows to be back for playoffs ... Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson told Nazem Kadri to go back to London this year and get 100 points. After a slow start, Kadri nearly got there (87 points in 54 games). He's also the only player in the OHL's Top 20 scorers with 100 penalty minutes. That, in Brian Burke's words, is some "truculence" ... Most disappointing team? No question, Dale DeGray's Owen Sound Attack. They have Joey Hishon, Steve Shipley and, now, another too-high pick in the OHL draft this May ... The last time the Sarnia Sting picked first overall four years ago, they got Steve Stamkos. There isn't one like him in this year's crop of midgets, but that doesn't mean Sting fans don't expect GM and head coach Dave MacQueen to find someone like him ... Who has the best goalie heading into the playoffs? It's Plymouth's Matt Hackett, followed closely by Sault Ste. Marie's Robin Lehner, and it's likely the Whalers and Greyhounds will clash in the first round ... In two games as a Windsor Spitfire nearly two months apart, Zack Kassian has been in two fights, has 19 penalty minutes, two unsportsmanlike conduct minors and was suspended 20 games for his head shot on Barrie's Matt Kennedy. Oh, yeah, and he has one goal ... The four teams vying for the 2011 Memorial Cup will make their bid presentations on April 14.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos