Save for a loss to the Lloydminster Bobcats Saturday, the Grande Prairie Storm have been on a roll. Going into that game, the team had won four-in-a-row and earned at least a point in the previous seven.
The Storm have racked up 27 points in 21 games and sit in fourth place in the AJHL North division. Head coach and assistant GM Matt Keillor says that despite dealing with illness and several injuries, they’re exceeding their own expectations.
“There just seems to be a youthfulness on the team and there’s a lot of energy around the rink. Our practices are high tempo and the kids seem to be coming together; it’s just working right now.”
Keillor gives his leaders a lot of credit for turning things around, but he adds that having some of the team’s more high profile players out of the game has also created opportunities for some of the younger players. He says they’re taking advantage of more ice time.
“They’re developing at a faster rate than what we thought, too, so that’s definitely a lot of help and we just hope that it continues and we build for the playoffs.”
After making it to the post-season last season following a three year drought, there are high expectations for the team this season. Keillor says he and General Manager Mark Bomersback put in a lot of work recruiting in the off-season.
“It was on the phone it felt like for four or five hours every night and emails. It was stressful, for sure, but now you’re seeing the payoff from that. Like anything else, you put in the hard work and you just have to be confident that hard work will pay off and that’s what’s happening right now.”
The community support has also played a big factor. The team is averaging the highest attendance in the AJHL and Keillor says they can feel the energy in the arena when they play.
“The atmosphere here is definitely pretty special. Especially for a lot of these kids from out of town or even some of the kids that played major junior, they haven’t seen atmospheres like this, so it’s a special place to play junior A hockey, and for us it’s our biggest recruiting tool.
Going into the next stretch of games, Keillor expects some of the injured players to return to the active roster. He says the key to keeping up the momentum will be to not get complacent.
“It’s exciting, and I can tell the guys are excited to be here every single day, and the same with the coaching staff; that’s all you can ask for… The expectation is we want to win; we don’t just want to make the playoffs; we don’t just want to sneak in there; we want to do some damage as well and be a perennial playoff team.”
The Storm’s next game is Wednesday night at home to the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m. at Revolution Place.