If MacKenzie Entwistle’s new junior team is going to make any noise in the OHL playoffs, they need to get it together and quick.
Faced with some big tests during the past week, the Guelph Storm proceeded to roll out a couple of stinkers, losing 6-1 to the London Knights on Feb. 13, followed by a 5-2 loss to the Kitchener Rangers on Feb. 15.
Late in the latter, Entwistle helped make the result a bit more respectable by burying a short-handed goal on a rare 3-on-1 penalty kill opportunity.
That goal came while Guelph was killing a five-minute major assessed to Alexey Toropchenko, who’s been suspended indefinitely for this pretty dumb hit.
The fact that Entwistle started the game against Kitchener centering Guelph’s third line tells you this team is deep and talented, but they’re also smart enough to know skill alone isn’t going to take them very far.
“We’re coming into games thinking we’re going to blow teams out,” captain Isaac Ratcliffe admitted to Guelph Today’s Tony Saxon following the loss to the Rangers. “(The opposition’s) hard work is definitely going to beat our skill and it’s not acceptable. We just have to hold ourselves accountable.”
Storm coach and general manager George Burnett is the architect and captain of this ship, and as such he’s holding himself accountable for getting this particular group of hockey youths on the right course.
“It’s my responsibility to get these guys ready to play and clearly they’re not, so that’s on me,” Burnett said. “This is on me. I’m the leader and I’ve got to make sure I’ve got this group ready to go.”
The week ended somewhat mercifully with a 5-4 overtime win over the Flint Firebirds, a victory tempered by the fact the Michigan team has sat at the bottom of the league standings all season.
As things stand, it’s going to be difficult to stack up against the other Western Conference contenders, especially with little chance of home ice advantage beyond the opening round of the playoffs.
As far as Entwistle goes, he continues to check the expected boxes: hard working, good in the locker room, offensively capable, defensively responsible and effective in all situations.
His production has dropped below the point-per-game pace he recorded early in his time with the Storm, and he’s been good for only two goals in his last six games. Part of that is his recovery from a lower-body injury, and part of it is due to being shuffled up and down the lineup in lieu of his previous assignment alongside Ratcliffe and Nick Suzuki, a trio briefly reunited in the loss to London.
Through 16 games with the Storm, Entwistle has scored six goals and added eight assists. Add that to his numbers earlier this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and he’s up to 21 goals and 20 assists in 45 games.
In the short term, Entwistle will be a benefit to any success achieved this junior team this season. Long term, Blackhawks fans can anticipate the eventual addition of a solid depth forward who can help in all three zones.
In the meantime, memories are being made.
Friday, Feb. 22 vs. Erie Otters
Saturday, Feb. 23 @ Flint Firebirds
Tuesday, Feb. 26 @ London Knights