1997–1998 Guelph Storm Hockey Club
The 1997 -1998 Guelph Storm was a very special group of players under the leadership of coach George Burnett and general manager Alan Millar. They finished the Ontario Hockey League season in first place overall, just one point ahead of the Ottawa 67’s – the team they would eventually meet in the final.
“(Previous GM) Mike Kelly had left a strong base – a team with lots of versatility and discipline,” said Burnett. “They had great leadership and could play the game lots of different ways.”
Led by defenceman Chris Hajt and centre Manny Malhotra this team didn’t have a scorer in the top ten but they were bursting with character players like Nick Bootland, Brian Willsie, Bob Crummer, Jason Jackman, and Kent McDonell.
The Storm would march through the playoffs knocking off Sudbury and Plymouth in four straight games. However near tragedy struck when the Whalers Jesse Boulerice viciously swung his stick at Guelph’s unsuspecting Andrew Long leaving him unconscious on the ice and unable to play the rest of the season.
“That was so emotional for our team,” said Burnett. “We had not only lost a good player (second in team scoring during the regular season) but just seeing him laying on the ice was terrible, but we stayed strong.”
In the final they would beat Ottawa in five games on a series-winning goal by Willsie to win their first OHL championship and advance to the Memorial Cup. There, Malhotra would lead the club in scoring but it was goaltender Chris Madden who stole the show. He had a .947 save percentage and was named the tournament MVP. They met the Marian Hossa led Portland Winterhawks in the final and lost a 4-3 heartbreaker in overtime.
You could argue this is the greatest Storm team to represent our city. Six players would go on to play in the NHL (Malhotra, Willsie, McDonell, Hajt, Eric Beaudoin, and Brian McGrattan).
“It was a team of character and great skill,” summed up Burnett.
Inducted into the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame – Team category – May 18, 2016