New Head Coach Eric Thurston is feeling optimistic about the opportunity to turn the Grande Prairie Storm in the right direction. The team has struggled since the 2012-2013 season which saw them finish second place in the North Division and landed in the bottom two teams of the division four times since then.
Thurston comes in with more than 30 years of professional coaching experience, including being a member of the coaching staff of the University of Alberta Golden Bears during the span when they won six national championships.
“From my time at the U of A and with the Drayton Valley Thunder, I think the biggest aspect of creating a winning team is the culture. We want to create an on-the-ice and off-the-ice environment where there are no problems in the locker room, to be honest. That goes hand in hand with putting a good product on the ice. Like anything, you need to make sure they have fun too,” he says.
Thurston points to the Colorado Avalanche as a play style that they would like to emulate.
“We have to put a team out there that plays fast, with skill. You see how explosive they are, that’s kind of how I want our team to play as well,” he says.
Thurston guided the Drayton Valley Thunder to a fourth-place finish in the AJHL North Division during the 2021-2022 campaign. In addition to play style, a strong group on defence and strong goaltending is what he feels every team needs as a foundation.
“I think that’s a real strength that the Storm has in place with Connor Mackenzie in net. I like the group of returning players we have, too. General Manager Mark Bomersback has also brought in some good players that should be strong additions to our locker room and be able to perform on the ice,” he says.
Even more so, there’s an opportunity here to create a winning team and a team that the city and surrounding area can be proud of.
“There’s a buzz to the city. Bonnetts Energy Centre is probably the best facility in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. It’s nice to be the only game in town, but we have to do our part for the fans to get excited about this team. I’m glad to be a part of the organization,” he explains.
“We want our players to be good on the ice, involved in the community. We have to have a real identity as a team. We want to play fast, be difficult to play against, and for the players to enjoy what they do.”
Storm management has brought in several new players recently. On Wednesday, they signed American defenseman Cameron Ferraz. The new-look group will take the ice for the first time on September 16th, taking on the Bonnyville Pontiacs at Bonnetts Energy Centre.