The Summerside Storm better start saying their playoff prayers. And real soon. They have to catch a Rat. Or rather a whole team of them.
The Storm just had a frustrating back-to-back Maritime excursion to Halifax on Sunday and Moncton on Monday, coming away empty handed as they try desperately to qualify for the National Basketball League of Canada playoffs in their initial season.
The Storm is 2 1/2 games back of the fourth and final playoff spot occupied by the Saint John Mill Rats. Saint John just beat Quebec and Moncton on their weekend homestand, and can now actually take a breath.
So where do we stand in this Rat hunt?
There are about a dozen games left for each team. Saint John has exactly 12, with seven of them at home, where they’re pretty good. Summerside has 11 left, with only five at home. That may not be as bad as it looks, because the Storm have been pretty dreadful at home, breaking an eight-game home losing streak finally last Friday night.
The Storm has to win three more than the Mill Rats until the end of the season on March 4.
The two teams play head-to-head just once more, when the Storm wander over to Saint John on Feb. 10. That one’s a must-win as is just about every other game they play from now on.
Speaking of the Friday night victory, it had to be one of the greatest nights ever for basketball in the province. While the Storm came back to beat Oshawa 129-121 in front of well over 3,000 fans in Summerside, almost 1,200 jammed into UPEI’s field house in Charlottetown to watch the Panthers pound UNB 99-76.
On a snowy, terrible-driving night, almost 4,500 Islanders showed up to see basketball. Totally safe to say that’s a record, no matter what the weather.
The Storm crowd was all decked out in pink, in support of the breast cancer awareness effort put forth across the NBLC. Almost $2,300 was raised for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and Storm owners Duncan Shaw and Darren MacKay dug deep into their own pockets to match the amount.
The Storm is setting new standards for community involvement, and is the kind of franchise that every city dreams of having. Their sponsors are into the act, too. Accounting firm MRSB has bought a huge block of tickets, and donated them to the P.E.I. Minor Basketball Association so minor teams can raise money by selling them and kids can come to the games for free, too. Almost $5,000 has been raised so far.
The College of Piping has a deal where they sell Storm tickets but get to keep the money to support their Highland Storm event in the summer, and in return provide pre-game entertainment and some volunteer staff at games.
Rogers buys tickets to donate to schools where the Storm visit with their literacy program. Those tickets also have started going to church groups, too, which I think is an outstanding plan. As I said, playoff prayers are certainly in order now.
Bob Gray is a freelance journalist with a long history of P.E.I. basketball reporting. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.