Its no secret that since Ryan Finnerty took the helm in Altrincham the roster has been designed to win at home and make it uncomfortable for any vising side. The 2017/8 season saw them finish second overall, largely thanks to an impressive 20-5-3 home record, in which the Shelter became a stronghold. Despite a sluggish start to this years campaign Storm have battled back into play-off contention with a terrific January, in which they have accumulated 15 out of a possible 20 points. The reasons behind this recent upturn in results will be outlined below:
For the scientist amongst us, the constant variable for Storm’s roster is the regular opportunity to play on the small-ice surface they are now so acclimatised to. Manchester Storm are the second tallest roster in the league (to Nottingham) with an average height of 6ft (184.13cm) and second heaviest 190lbs (86.09kg), with Cardiff & Nottingham joint first, which have been brought together to shutdown the opposition forwards and sustain the forechecking pressure. The current string of results from Finnerty’s men appear to have finally validated his trust in their abilities, albeit after multiple dressing room casualties. Furthermore, the intimidation factor, of the Shelter. has begun to rekindle within the stands, as the momentum from ousting Sheffield on New Years Day has seen the atmosphere and viewership improve on an almost weekly basis. Ultimately, Storm’s play-off fate will depend on their ability to win at home, but with renewed confidence it would be somewhat of a surprise if they did miss out.
The affectionately named ‘Goonchester’ Storm were doing their upmost to maintain this reputation for large parts of this season with excessive penalty taking and ill-discipline plaguing the roster. However, this ill-discipline now appears to behind them with a significant drop-off in penalty minutes:
9.8 PIM’S per game since January or 98 PIM’S in 10 games
25.3 PIM’s per game prior to January or 810 PIM’s in 32 games
It must be acknowledged the sample size of this claim is notably smaller than required to state as fact and Storm still remain atop of the PIM charts, with Dane Byers (162PIM’s) and Linden Springer (158PIM’s) vying for first overall. Yet, the well-worn phrase of “you cannot win a game from the box” has finally begun to emerge in the Storm dressing room, as the level of discipline they can maintain will to be a deciding factor in this tight play-off race.
The relatively small Canadian netminder has stood tall for Manchester Storm for the vast majority of the season and has seamlessly replaced fan favourtite Mike Clemente. Ginn would most likely have a better statistical line (3.28 GAA and .909 SV%) if it were not for multiple powerplay opportunities being afforded to the opposition, particularly at the start of the year. However, since the turn of the year Ginn has been turning pucks aside with relative ease, which has cumulated in him maintaining an outstanding .938 SV% through the month of January. This impressive stretch has secured seven victories in his last ten starts and improved Ginn’s season record to 19-22-1. The Storm goaltender has been one of the few consistent performers and will undoubtedly be leaned up to secure a Top 8 finish.
A bumper January for Mike Hammond has seen him collect 18 points (2G 16A) in 10 games and move within one point of EIHL leading points scorer Ben Lake. His linemates Long and Richardson have been in a similar point collecting mood, with Long amassing 14 points (7G 7A) and Richardson tallying 6 points (1G 5A) in the same time period. The distribution of points do not tell the entire picture, as this forward line has appeared threatening on nearly every shift since they were brought back together. Finnerty’s decision to pair two of Storm’s best playmakers, and skaters, with the natural goalscorer Long has been vindicated not only by point production but the overall increase in team performance.
The direct replacement of fellow utility player Nate Fleming, MacMillan has started to flourish in his new role as the third-line centre. A long-term injury to Shane Bakker appeared to have left the Storm short down the middle of the ice and without a leader on the penalty kill. Yet, as the English proverb goes “cometh the hour cometh the man” and MacMillan certainly appears to be that man. A former first round NHL draft (2007, 17th overall to the Anaheim Ducks) and EIHL veteran, MacMillan has seized his opportunity with a string of impressive performances that have helped solidified the bottom line. The professional experience of MacMillan appears to helped raw prospect Chance Braid and simultaneously reinvigorated the mercurial talents of Chris Auger. However, when Bakker does return to full-fitness Finnerty will have to make some tough decisions on a gamely basis.
A second article will follow next week that will further elaborate on the reasons behind Manchester Storm’s impressive revival and highlight substantial the individual performances within the roster.
Feature Image: Matt Collier/Manchester Storm Offical Facebook Page