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OHL 20 in 20 Spotlight: Herbst embraces veteran role with Storm

After a career of highs and lows, veteran goaltender Liam Herbst continues to chase his NHL dream with a fresh start in Guelph this season.

The 20-year-old Etobicoke native has overcome adversity on a scale few players will ever experience, going from being an OHL Cup champion and first round OHL draft pick as a 15-year-old to missing most of his first two seasons of junior eligibility as a result of surgery in both knees before having both hips operated on six months later.

While many would falter, Herbst persevered, pushing through rehab to return to the crease with the Ottawa 67’s where he compiled an overall record of 34-21-4-2 over the past two seasons to go with a 3.03 goals-against average.

“There were some moments where I wondered if I’d ever play again,” Herbst recalled of his bout with uncertainty. “I was very fortunate to be involved with some really great doctors, therapists and trainers and they really put my career back on track. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Acquired in an offseason trade with Ottawa, Herbst joins a young Storm club looking to get back into the thick of things in the Midwest Division after winning an OHL title three years ago.

With exciting additions in defencemen Ryan Merkley and Dmitri Samorukov entering the fold and an emerging group of forwards up front, Herbst is excited about getting back to the rink.

“I’m really looking forward to the season,” he said. “Guelph is a great organization from the top down with Mike Kelly as GM and Jarrod Skalde behind the bench. We’re a young group but I’m optimistic about the progress we can make this season.”

The feeling is mutual. Storm GM Mike Kelly thinks very highly of his new goaltender.

“I’m very impressed with Liam as a young man,” he said. “He is mature beyond his years, is very articulate and is very bright. He’s been dealt some hard luck with the injuries he’s overcome and this year the table is set for him to come in and play 65-70 percent of the games for us.”

The goal for Herbst of course, has always been to play in the NHL. Despite his many setbacks, that goal hasn’t changed.

“I still believe I can be an NHL goaltender, and that’s why I’m playing,” Herbst said. “Sitting on the bench as a 19-year-old last year was hard at times, but I’m fortunate, I think I’ve been through a lot and I don’t think there are too many circumstances that I haven’t been exposed to in my career, so I’m ready for whatever lies ahead.”

As for Kelly, who has overseen the development of past and present pro goaltenders in Dan Cloutier, Mike Leighton and Garret Sparks during his 20-year OHL tenure, he sees a lot of talent in the overage Herbst.

The right-handed catching butterfly netminder played in the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in St. Catharines.

“We still think the kid’s got NHL upside to him,” Kelly remarked. “It’d be a neat story at 20 years of age to see him sign an NHL contract and that’s our goal for him and I’m sure that’s what he’s shooting for as well.”

That would make for a great story indeed.

ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.

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