Healthy Storm ready for playoff series with Moncton

Jason Malloy
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The Island Storm is healthy for the first time in six weeks.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time with the National Basketball League of Canada playoffs starting tonight.

Guard Shawn Vanzant missed the past three games and has been dealing with a back issue for the past few weeks. Point guard Al Stewart has been out since mid January after spraining his knee. Both are expected to play tonight against the Moncton Miracles when the teams tipoff at 7 p.m. at Eastlink Centre.

“I’m pretty excited about (getting) out there and trying to help the team,” Stewart said before Sunday’s practice.

“We’re all pretty much healthy and on the same page,” he added. “Now is the time . . . to go into the postseason and show the league what we’re capable of.”

The Storm (22-18) finished second in the Atlantic Division while the Miracles (14-26) were third.

Storm coach Joe Salerno said Moncton is a big, physical team.

“We have to hold our own on the glass,” he said. “That’s a big point of emphasis for us this whole series.”

The Storm also wants to take advantage of its quickness and stretch the floor.

While the Storm finished with eight more regular season wins than the Miracles, the teams split their 10 head-to-head meetings.

“It’s win or go home now, so you have to make sure you leave everything on the court,” Vanzant said.

“Nobody wants to go home right now,” added point guard Adrian Moss. “The longer you play the more cheques you get, so everybody is sort of playing for that next cheque.”

The first two games of the best-of-five NBL quarter-finals will take place at Eastlink Centre where the Storm was 16-4 this season. The series moves to the Moncton Coliseum for Game 3 and 4, if needed.

“We struggled at Moncton this season,” Salerno said, noting the team was 1-4 in the Hub City. “Those first two games are huge.”

The Storm made it to the league final last year before losing to London. The Storm has a number of players who were in that final, including Moss and Jeremy Williams, who are looking for back-to-back titles.

“We just have to get off to a good roll, kind of get back to the way we were playing when we won 10 of 11 games,” Moss said. “And there’s no doubt . . .  we can go all the way.”

While there is lots of experience on the Storm bench, Vanzant will be playing in his first professional playoff game. He doesn’t expect any butterflies.

“You work all summer to get to this point,” said Vanzant, who played in two NCAA championship games. “I’m ready to go.”

The Storm’s goal is to win the championship, but it is approaching the playoffs one game at a time.

“I’m not looking over anybody, but I’ve got my mind set on the ring,” Stewart said.

“To get a couple (wins) at home and sneak one in down there (would) be good, (but) we still have to take care of business. We can’t take Moncton lightly.”

THE SERIES

Game 1

Tonight – Moncton at Charlottetown, EastLink Centre, 7 p.m.

Game 2

Wednesday – Moncton at Charlottetown, EastLink Centre, 7 p.m.

Game 3

Friday – Charlottetown at Moncton, Moncton Coliseum, 7 p.m.

Game 4

Sunday – Charlottetown at Moncton, Moncton Coliseum, 2 p.m. (if necessary).

Game 5

Thursday, March 13 – Moncton at Charlottetown, Eastlink Centre, 7 p.m. (if necessary).

Organizations: Eastlink Centre, National Basketball League of Canada, Moncton Coliseum for Game 3 NCAA

Geographic location: Moncton, Charlottetown, Hub City London

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