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Guelph Storm’s Scott Walker finds cure for ‘stage fright’ by using national TV coverage as a motivator

Former NHLer Scott Walker is in his third season in Guelph (OHL Images)

GUELPH, Ont. — The medium was the message for Scott Walker.

On Friday, when the Guelph Storm ran off four unanswered third-period goals to beat the Oshawa Generals 4-1, Walker and his coaches obviously discussed more during the intermission than the fact a coast-to-coast Sportsnet (and NHL Network USA) audience was seeing the Storm play for the first time. But being reminded they were leaving a less than indelible first impression on a broader audience of hockey fans — at that point, Guelph's saving grace was goalie Garret Sparks, who had made 31 of his 44 saves — lit a fire.

"They weren't saying glowing things about us on TV and I let the some guys hear what they were saying between the second and third," Walker said. "It was, 'This is what they're saying about us.' That a couple a few guys were nonexistent. I said, 'Don't worry, I taped the game, I'll let you know what they said in the third because it's going to be a big difference.'

"It wasn't like I said it in a negative way; it was 'you have a chance to redeem yourselves here, you don't want people thinking this. You guys are skaters, fast and quick.' "

Who knows how that would work on big leaguers who more accustomed to playing in prime time. It's kind of charming junior hockey players are too young to be jaded by the attention. It might not have been lost on the Storm that since the NHL is in a labour shutdown, there was extra impetus to play well for a nation

"Definitely, that could be a reason," said captain Matt Finn, the Toronto Maple Leafs high second-round pick who had two points. "Everyone's going to be watching with no NHL going right now.

"Being on national TV is always cool," Finn also noted, stressing that it meant a lot to hear that point from his coach who played 16 seasons in the NHL. "Walk knows what it's like to be on that big stage, every night people are watching across North America. He came in, 'What do you want people to see? Who are you?' "

'It got to people'

Talk about the act of observing changing the observed. Of course, it was backed up by nuts-and-bolts hockey talk and some line adjustments. Jason Dickinson ended up scoring the Storm's first goal after being shifted from centre to wing.

"He stirred the pot a little bit, but the best thing he said was 'you get 15 shots here and you win this game,' " Storm goalie Garret Sparks said of Walker. "We did that and it was enough to win."

"It was, 'Everybody thinks you guys are laying an egg out there,' " Sparks added. "It got to people."

The point of delving into this it that it was a window into how a coach works the room. Everyone knows national TV coverage extra TV timeouts and more opportunities to play the hell out of the first three lines and top two D pairings. (With Guelph missing four regulars due to injuries or suspension and Oshawa missing two, including Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder Scott Laughton, both teams probably appreciated the breaks.)

Apparently, having the Sportsnet Friday Night Hockey crew come to town — the network has long been the Canadian Hockey League's TV partner, but this is the second season of having a regular time slot on a particular night of the week — means more than that to the players and Walker picked up on it.

"We had a bit of stage fright," Walker said. "Some of the guys have never been on national TV before, we had little bit of things going on differently in the room."

Walker also presciently predicted a 3-1 final score. That was in place until veteran Ryan Horvat fired in the empty-netter.

"He was pretty spot-on with that," a smiling Finn said. "He knows our team well."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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