‘They’re missing being here’: Guelph Storm ready to return to the ice

Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.
Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

You don’t have to remind Guelph Storm head coach and general manager George Burnett that it has been almost eight months since his team was on the ice.

“It’s been a long break,” he said on Thursday after the Ontario Hockey League announced it was aiming to start its next regular season on Feb. 4 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Puck will drop on next Ontario Hockey League season Feb. 4

So it’ll be almost a year for the Storm since their last game — a 7-4 loss to the Kitchener Rangers on March 11.

“We miss the boys, miss the game and all the things associated with it,” Burnett said.

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The OHL hopes to have a 40-game season, down from the usual 68-game schedule.

The playoffs will be cut in half, with eight teams instead of the usual 16 qualifying and the first round will be a best-of-five with the next two best-of-seven.

The Memorial Cup tournament is scheduled to start on June 17.

“I know it seems like a long wait but those things are required under the circumstances and I think it gives us the best opportunity to play, which everybody involved wants,” Burnett said.

Read more: National Lacrosse League will wait until April to attempt to start next season

There are still several issues the league needs to address, specifically cross-border play with three teams based in the U.S. — Flint Firebirds, Erie Otters and Saginaw Spirit. Those would be regular travel destinations for the Storm in normal circumstances.

The league is also hoping to avoid overnight stays for teams on the road wherever possible and another daunting task, especially for teams in the western conference such as Guelph that routinely make trips to Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

“The health and safety of our players, our billets, our staff is the most important,” Burnett said. “The plan has to be solid and lots of structure, and to limit the amount of travel, the overnights, the long bus rides, the hotels and those types of things are clearly going to give us the best opportunity to do that.”

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When the OHL stopped its season in March, the Storm had clinched a playoff spot with the hopes of defending their championship from the previous year.

Click to play video 'OHL start date pushed back to Feb. 4' OHL start date pushed back to Feb. 4
OHL start date pushed back to Feb. 4 – Oct 29, 2020

In a normal season, the Storm would have already played about a dozen games and Burnett said the players are missing this.

Read more: London Knights preparing for shortened OHL season

“They’re missing being here, they’re missing each other. I think they miss the daily camaraderie, practices, games and of course, being together,” he said.

“It’s a difficult time and we hope everybody is able to stay safe as they continue to train and do things from home and are ready when we get the opportunity to come together.”