Let’s begin by getting the bad news out of the way: Ryan Merkley blocked a shot early in the second period of Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Flint Firebirds and was forced to make an early exit. According to Guelph Storm radio play-by-play man Larry Mellott, Merkley is considered day-to-day and isn’t expected to miss any time thanks to the OHL’s weekend heavy schedule.
Prior to suffering the injury, Merkley had recorded a power-play assist and one shot on goal — more on his totals to date later on.
Guelph’s weekend began with a wild one on home ice against Sarnia, a back and forth affair that saw the Storm erase 3-1 and 4-2 deficits — and later take a 5-4 lead — only to have the Sting tie things up midway through the third period. This one appeared destined for overtime, until Merkley pulled a rabbit out of his hat to set up a magical buzzer beater.
The Athletic’s Mitch Brown wonderfully broke down the play here:
8.0 seconds left. Tie game. OZ draw. What do you do? Well, the Guelph Storm have an answer with this incredible buzzer-beating game-winner.— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) October 6, 2018
Ryan Merkley sets this play up, Nate Schnarr finishes it, but all five players had a role in making this goal happen. Here's how: pic.twitter.com/0ZeIofsvdV
As the video shows, Dallas Stars prospect Liam Hawel won the faceoff and sent the puck back to Merkley, who was presented with several options by teammates who placed themselves in position for a shot attempt or rebound opportunity. The defenseman elected to shake off the opposition and thread a sublime cross-ice pass to Arizona Coyotes prospect Nate Schnarr, who deposited the game winner into the back of the net with 1.1 seconds left.
That there is a perfect example of Merkley’s playmaking abilities, and the skill and vision with which he plays the game.
“You know Merkley’s looking pass all day and I was lucky to find a little lane and he found me, so it was perfect,” Schnarr said on the Storm website. “It wasn’t long into my first season that I learned that if I’m on that side of the ice and Merkley’s rolling down that other side, to be ready for a pass. He’ll feed it through three guys skates, sticks, whatever it takes to find you.”
The assist was Merkley’s third primary helper of the game, as he assisted on power play goals by Schnarr and Montreal Canadiens prospect Cam Hillis earlier in the night.
For the season, Merkley now has six assists in less than four games, taking into account the fact he missed over half of his latest appearance. Three of those are primary in nature, all of which came in the win over Sarnia. He does have only three shots on goal in those four games, which is way down from the 2.29 per game he averaged last season.
But again, we’ll cut him some slack following his extended stay in San Jose that overlapped with the start of the OHL season, and his second set of games — highlighted by that game-winning assist above — were clearly an improvement over his season debut. Hopefully whatever ails him following that blocked shot isn’t too serious and he’s back in action next time the Storm take to the ice.
Speaking of, up next for Guelph is a set of three games in three days, ending with an afternoon tilt with an always dangerous OHL powerhouse:
Oct. 12 vs. Owen Sound Attack
Oct. 13 @ Sarnia Sting
Oct. 14 vs. London Knights
Guelph Made a Trade
One last note: I mentioned earlier that Guelph would likely be active on the trade market this season, with an overage spot to fill and some experience to add on the blue line. Prior to Friday’s game, it was announced that the club had acquired forward Domenico Commisso from the Oshawa Generals in exchange for a second-round pick in 2023, a second in 2024 (originally belonging to Windsor) and a fifth-round selection in 2021 (originally belonging to Kingston).
Commisso, who has not been drafted by an NHL club, appeared in 201 regular-season games for the Generals, recording 61 goals and 107 assists for 168 points, with an additional 16 points in 21 playoff games. Last season, he recorded 62 points in 63 games played, finishing third in team scoring and first in goals scored with 23.
“I’m very excited to join the Guelph Storm Hockey Club,” Commisso said. “I look forward to playing with this strong group and finishing my OHL career on a winning note.”
It’s a bold move for the Storm, and a bit of a heavy price to pay, but this isn’t a deadline rental situation, as Guelph will get basically a full season out of Commisso. The Storm now boast impressive depth down the middle, and will likely look to add the same on defense as they stake their claim as a team to be taken seriously in the OHL this season.
A healthy Merkley is obviously key to that; after starting the season 0-1-1, Guelph has posted a record of 4-0-0 since his return.
(Statistical information courtesy Prospect Stats)