Storm players exceeded expectations heading into finals
By Darren Lum
Published March 21, 2019
Highland Storm Midget coach James Reilly is proud of his team for advancing to the OMHA provincial final for Midget CC teams against the Twin Centre Stars, which is near Kitchener.
Reilly came into the season with a relatively young team and focused on development and characterized the all-provincial berth as a victory.
Win or lose, his highlight is now.
“Just the fact they made it to the final. I think they’re winners already and if they win this it’s a bonus. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We didn’t expect to go this far this year. When you’re developing first and second year players normally when they start approaching the third year or in their third year, you want to see that all come to light. Some of them have surprised me. The first and second year players have stepped up way, way above expectations I thought. The highlight is being here right now,” he said.
Part of the surprise to the post-season success derives from the “struggle” of the regular season. The team finished the regular season 8-10-4.
The team is playing well and is peaking now, Reilly said.
Heading into the final, the team had won nine of its last 12 games, including the 3-1 series win over the Bancroft Jets to get to the finals.
“They’ve really started to find themselves. Peaking at the right time (for an athlete) is a key to success. In this case it’s actually happening,” he said.
Since Reilly’s interview with the Times, the team has won two straight games this past weekend to take a 2-0 lead in the best of five series. Both games were close, decided by one goal.
On Saturday, March 16, the Storm won 1-0 at Wellesley Arena and then followed up that win with a 2-1 win at home at the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton.
The team is scheduled to play game three, and, if necessary, game four this weekend.
The next home game is Sunday, March 24 at the A.J. LaRue in Haliburton. The puck drops at 2 p.m.
Game five (and six if tied) is scheduled the weekend after to decide the best-of-five series.
If it is tied due to points after five games then a sixth game will be played and is scheduled at 2 p.m. at the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton. If this game ends tied after regulation, the game will be decided by the first goal, however long is required.
A major contributor to the team’s success is its ability to adapt to challenges related to a shorter bench caused by injuries this season (several concussions, broken wrist, collarbone).
Reilly said it forced players to do more than expected such as learn how to play a new position. The coach thought some of these injuries was due to the difference in physical maturity between 16-year-old players and the upper range of eligible 19-year-olds, he said.
Concussions not only happened to several first year players, but also to the team’s captain, Shawn Walker. Reilly had high praise for the team’s leader, who has led the Storm in how he plays and how he carries himself.
“Great player. Great leader. A really good athlete. A lot of the younger players look up to him. He leads by example in every way,” he said. “Super, super guy.”
The team also received strong leadership from team assistants, Benn MacNaull and Lucas Haedicke.
During the high school playoffs, Walker was injured, but is ready to play this final and Reilly appreciates his captain’s durability.
“The kid is tough as nails. He’s had a few minor injuries that have kept him out of a few games here and there. Right now he is healthy,” he said.
Many of the third-year players moved on from last year’s team, which not only advanced to the OMHA finals, but swept their opponents to win it all.
The five third-year players from last year, who have been leaders are goalie Carson Sisson, Nik Dollo, Haedicke, Owen Gilbert and captain Walker.
“They’re there to motivate and mentor the younger kids and younger men coming in. I think they wanted it. They saw what happened last year. Of course they want to win and buying into what the coaching staff is teaching them, taking on the role they have to and have put systems in place. They truly believe in themselves and great guidance from the [five] that came back from last year so they’ve been really good with working with younger players on the team,” he said.
The team’s roster also includes MacNaull, Reese Casey, Tyson Clements, Brendan Coumbs, Desi Davies, Jacob Mitchell, Zach Morissette, Aiden Neave, Braeden Robinson, Nigel Smith, Braeden Vasey and goalie Ethan Glecoff.
As far as the Storm players who were part of the Red Hawks hockey team that came up just short in earning an all-provincial berth with the loss in the COSSA final, Reilly said they have added motivation.
“Their focus was a little spread out. Now they can focus on this achievement that’s in front of them. They’re playing with a little bit of grit because of [it]. It’s definitely given them some drive,” he said.
Reilly emphasized the success of this team takes an entire cast of people.
He appreciates the support of players’ parents, but most of all the efforts of his staff, which includes manager Robert Vasey, goalie coach Clay Glecoff, and his assistant coaches Rich Smith and David Dollo.
“The team wouldn’t have accomplished what they have without the staff we have in place. They’re stellar guys to work with. They’re really good hockey guys. It’s a privilege to work with them for sure,” he said.
Among the parents includes Suzanne Haedicke, mother to third-year player and team assistant Lucas.
She was a regular contributor to the Haliburton Echo and Minden Times newspapers, providing dispatches of the team’s games this 2018-2019 season.
Haedicke said “one of our greatest strengths” is experienced third-year player Sisson.
As far as the team’s make-up in terms of strengths and weaknesses, she said “Drive and determination have brought the Midgets into the finals. For some players, it’s their first year at this level of hockey. They rely on the top five third-year players to set the stage. They definitely have the offence to challenge and need to work hard defensively. The experienced coaching staff is a great asset in utilizing each player’s best strengths. Hard work pays off and this team did what it took to get into the finals. Good luck to them.”
Regulation time is divided into three 15 minute periods and then 10 minutes for overtime. A single point for each team will be awarded if the game is tied after the overtime finishes.