Toropchenko’s memorable first helps Storm win Memorial Cup opener

Alexei Toropchenko scores first period hat trick and the Guelph Storm defeated the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in their first game of the Memorial Cup.

All the chatter entering the 2019 Memorial Cup was about Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki and how dangerous offensively he was for the Guelph Storm.

And while Suzuki was good in Guelph’s tournament opener, teammate Alexey Toropchenko flew in under the radar to steal the show on Saturday at Scotiabank Centre.

Toropchenko scored his first career hat trick in a monster first period to help the Ontario Hockey League champions beat the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 5-2.

The Russian right-winger started his outburst in the first period with a short-handed goal to tie the game 1-1. An aggressive forecheck on Huskies defenceman Noah Dobson, followed by a stick lift and nice wrist shot over goaltender Samuel Harvey’s glove, got his team on the board.

Guelph, looking for its first Memorial Cup in franchise history, hadn’t scored shorthanded during the entire OHL playoffs.

Just 2:07 later, Toropchenko struck again after a nice pass from Jack Hanley found his stick in front of the net.

His first attempt at a hat trick came minutes later, but Harvey stopped it with his blocker. The 19-year-old Toropchenko broke through late in the period by going in on a breakaway and beating Harvey five-hole.

“I’m just trying to do my best and play hard,” he told Sportsnet’s Rob Faulds.

Toropchenko is the first player to score a hat trick in one period during the tournament since Nathan MacKinnon in 2013 with the Halifax Mooseheads.

The six-foot three, 200-pound Toropchenko had 13 goals and six assists during the OHL playoffs, including a massive OHL championship series against Ottawa where he recorded three-straight two-goal games. He added another goal in Game 5 to finish with the third-most goals in OHL championship series history.

He wasn’t picked until the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues and could prove to be a steal if this type of play continues.

Here are some more takeaways from Guelph’s victory:

Suzuki’s skill on display

Suzuki is hard to miss.

He was stopped four minutes into the game on a nice glove save by Harvey, but was prevalent all throughout the match.

The top scorer in the OHL playoffs with 42 points got on the scoresheet at 19:15 of the second on a beautiful give-and-go with defenceman Sean Durzi. Suzuki had an open net by the end of it and gave Guelph a 5-2 lead.

Popovich tested early

The play of Storm goaltender Anthony Popovich was a question mark entering the tournament and Rouyn-Noranda took advantage right away.

A weak shot by Vincent Marleau from the left circle beat him glove side 2:17 into the game to give the Huskies an early advantage.

“Not a great first goal,” Storm coach George Burnett told Sportsnet later in the first.

But the second period was a different story for the 19-year-old Popovich.

He made a nice early save on Huskies captain Rafael Harvey-Pinard which appeared to give him some confidence.

Rouyn-Noranda continued to pepper him with shots, but Popovich came up with three massive saves with just over three minutes left in the second including two big stops with his left pad on Felix Bibeau.

Another great chance from Marleau in the third period on a partial breakaway was stopped by Popovich, who finished with 22 saves.

Lauko creates momentum

Another European forward, rookie Jakub Lauko from Prague, Czech Republic, helped the Huskies get a little bit of momentum in the second period with a great drive to the net to beat Popovich and cut the deficit to 4-2.

Lauko, a third-round pick of the Boston Bruins at last year’s NHL Draft, missed a glorious chance on an two-on-one minutes later after a nice pass over by Harvey-Pinard.

Despite the miss, Lauko’s goal helped give the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League winners some momentum. The Huskies followed up the goal by using their speed to create three good chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

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