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Storm Watch: Merkley & Co. experiencing minor growing pains

Sep 25, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Ryan Merkley (6) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It was not a weekend to write home about for the Guelph Storm.

Similar to last week, Ryan Merkley’s Ontario Hockey League club was faced with a stretch of three games in three days, this time with a pair of games on the road and one at home.

A trip to Owen Sound to play the Attack on Saturday was sandwiched between a home-and-home set with the Kitchener Rangers, generally considered to be the Storm’s chief rival, given that the two cities are separated by 16 miles.

The end results? A 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Friday (woof), a 5-2 loss to Owen Sound (yuck), and, mercifully, a 5-2 win over Kitchener on Sunday (decent).

Guelph’s record now stands at 7-4-1 through 12 games, and the Storm sits three points behind the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the race for top spot in the OHL’s Western Conference.

Storm Leadership Needs To Step Up

The message following the win over Kitchener on Sunday was clear: Clean up your act, boys.

Both games with Kitchener featured a bevy of post-whistle shenanigans and gatherings of Storm players in the penalty box, and that kind of behavior needs to be reined in, according to coach and general manager George Burnett.

“We certainly have to clean up our discipline,” Burnett said, courtesy of Storm reporter Tony Saxon. “There’s things as a team that you can do. The talk is cheap. Obviously we want guys to support one another and protect one another, but regardless who initiates it, in a one-goal or two-goal hockey game, why put that much pressure on your goaltender or your penalty killers by taking questionable-type penalties?

“The stuff around the benches, the after-whistle stuff, those are just a waste of energy in my mind. If we’re going to be a good team we’ve got to clean those things up.”

Much of the responsibility was placed on the shoulders of captain and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe, who picked up a 10-minute misconduct in each of the three games.

Merkley is the leader on the blue line, though, and did not emerge with a clean record.

Merkley’s Updated Stats

Offensively, Merkley had a pretty quiet weekend, recording two assists over the course of the three games. For the season, he’s still averaging better than a point per game, with two goals and 10 assists in 10 games.

His shot rate could still come up a bit; he failed to fire a puck on net in the first two games of the weekend, but did reach four shots on goal in the win over the Rangers. He’s sitting on 16 through 10 games, and that’s well down the 2.29 shots per game he averaged last season, and the 2.25 a night mark he hit as a rookie.

In fairness, Merkley is no longer as sheltered as he used to be and is taking on some heavy defensive tasks. The fact he’s still putting up assists is a testament to his ability to move the puck with great ease and effectiveness. Maybe he won’t set a new career high in goals (he’d need 14 to do so), but his overall game is improving, and Guelph has plenty of firepower up front to carry that load.

Among OHL defensemen, he ranks fourth in points per game average (1.2) and third in primary points per game (0.7).

Some old school types might point to his minus-three rating and hold that against him, but let’s not with that stat, shall we?

Unfortunately, there’s not much out there in the way of advanced stats for OHL players and teams, but Guelph ranks eighth among OHL teams with a 51.76 shots for percentage in all situations, a number that drops to 50.5 at even strength. Again, Merkley isn’t generating those shots himself, but he’s adept at gaining the puck in his own zone and getting it up the ice to those who are.

Additionally, Guelph also boasts the OHL’s fourth-ranked power play, with Merkley serving as the quarterback for the first (and sometimes second unit).

In short, it’s been a positive start to the season for Merkley and the Storm, but there’s room for improvement, and this competitive group of youths needs to keep the emotions in check in order to regularly keep the upper hand against the opposition.

Up Next:

Friday, Oct. 26 vs Erie Otters
Sunday, Oct. 28 vs. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds