Alexey Toropchenko helped the Guelph Storm make a statement in their Memorial Cup opener on Saturday.
The Russian winger scored a natural hat trick in the first period to give the OHL champions a 5-2 win over the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in front of 9,509 fans at the Scotiabank Centre.
"For me, we won and that is what I care about," Torpchenko said. "It doesn't matter how many I score or how many points I had. We win and that's all; now we want to do it again."
The Huskies actually got the jump on the Storm with a goal just 2:17 into the game but Toropchenko answered with three straight in just 7:23 to turn the tables before the end of the first period. Guelph stretched that lead to 4-1 and 5-2 at points in the second period before locking into a structured finish in the third.
"I think we just caught the breaks in the game," said Guelph defenceman Sean Durzi. "That's just how the game goes. It's high-paced hockey and there are no bad teams here. I think we did a good job of playing hard and playing fast and we came out with the win."
Big, fast and skilled
It was an eye-opening introduction by the Storm, who showed exactly why they won the Ontario Hockey League title. They are big, fast and skilled, which seemed to catch the Huskies off guard.
"We try to play with our size," said Guelph forward Nick Suzuki. "I'm not the biggest guy but I have big guys around me and on different lines. When we really use our size to our advantage we're tough to play against down low in the corners and cycling. It's a good first step."
As impressive as the victory was by the Storm, it's also true the Huskies were not themselves for a few costly stretches. There was, of course, the Toropchenko outburst but also a few brief lapses defensively that stalled Rouyn's attempts to come back.
"We had a good start but the last 10 minutes of the first period got away from us," said Huskies defenceman Noah Dobson. "After they scored we just sort of stopped playing. I thought we answered back in the second and had some good chances. But at the end of the day, they buried their chances and we didn't. We can do better. We'll learn from it and we'll be better on Monday."
It also wouldn't be fair to call the entire game a disaster for the Huskies. They generated several high-quality scoring chances in the middle of the second period and parts of the third, while also settling in better defensively in the back half of the game.
"We did not have our identity," said Huskies head coach Mario Pouliot. "It's impossible to win games when we give the puck like we gave to them. Every time we gave them a chance they made us pay for every mistake.
"I really liked our first six minutes of the game but after their first goal we had a tough time to reset and get back to play our game. In the second when the score was 4-2, we missed too many great scoring chances. ... so even when we weren't playing our game, a full 60, hard compete level with a strong work ethic and good puck management, we were still close at some points to come back in the game. But the way we managed the puck cost us the game, it's as simple as that."
Suzuki and MacKenzie Entwistle had the other Storm goals and Jakub Lauko and Vincent Marleau scored for the Huskies.
Samuel Harvey made 24 save for Rouyn-Noranda and Anthony Popovich stopped 22 shots for Guelph. The Storm have now guaranteed themselves of no less than a berth in the tiebreaker game so they can settle into the tournament more than the Huskies.
"I don't think it takes that much pressure off," Suzuki said. "Every game's a must-win in this tournament. Everyone wants to finish first in the standings at the end of it and get the bye to the final. That's our goal right now and we've got to be ready for our game tomorrow."
'We didn't want it enough'
Now that the first tournament game is out of the way, the Huskies will likely be more composed next time out. They know they lost their way a few times against the unfamiliar Storm tactics and got away from the skating game that made them so successful during the QMJHL regular season and playoffs. But those mistakes will surely be fixed by the time they play the Prince Albert Raiders on Monday.
"Today wasn't X's and O's," Hinam said. "We didn't want it enough and we lost too many battles. We're going to make sure we take this feeling right now and turn it into a positive.
"We weren't ourselves today and we need to make sure we're better next game against PA."
The Storm face the host Halifax Mooseheads on Sunday night. Their challenge will be resetting themselves in the quick turnaround against a team that will have the backing of the home fans.
"We saw what they had last night," Suzuki said. "Their fans were cheering for us today but it's going to be a lot different tomorrow. We've played in some played buildings throughout the playoffs - London, Ottawa, Saginaw and Kitchener. All the crowds there are pretty nuts like this so we're pretty used to it."
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