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Culture key to 2022-23 Storm season under new leadership

The Grande Prairie Storm is hoping a strong culture on and off the ice will lead to a playoff spot this season. The local Alberta Junior Hockey League team held its main camp over the weekend, culminating in the annual intersquad Brian Nash Memorial Game Sunday night.

The team is being led this year by new head coach Eric Thurston, who spent the last four seasons as the Head Coach and GM of the Drayton Valley Thunder. He says they are looking for skill first and foremost.

“I’m a big believer in the speed game, so we’re looking for players that can obviously really skate. Another thing is, you’ve got to be able to move the puck, pass the puck, be able to collect the puck, and then you’ve got to understand the structure of what you’re trying to do.”

The Storm brought 40 players to camp, which will eventually be whittled down to 25.

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Also joining the squad this year is ex-Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters as Director of Player Personnel. He says success in his role will mean moving players on to the next level.

“Player recruitment and player advancement. We’ve got to do a good job of making sure these guys are eligible to go on and play in the NCAA, U SPORTS here in Canada, or maybe overseas. Wherever it may be, we want to make sure that they’re maxing out their potential and continuing to get better.”

That includes building up the local minor hockey scene to see more players from the region making it onto the Storm roster. Peters points to the new Chris McMillan Fitness Centre for Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association, Grande Peace Athletic Club, and Grande Prairie Storm players as a potential resource.

“It would be outstanding to have lots of local players. It takes time to build that up but that would be something that would be beneficial, to be competitive in this area with all the teams in GPAC and everything else.”

With a fresh leadership team, it’s hoped the energy that they bring will be mirrored by the players. Thurston says the goal is to give them the tools to be successful and hopefully see everyone pulling in the same direction to help fill the stands of the Bonnetts Energy Centre.

“When your team works hard and the players buy in, that’s a good product for the people coming in. Certainly, that’s what we love about coaching, seeing your players getting better, seeing a good product on the ice, and I think the people of Grande Prairie are going to respect that and they’re going to come out and support us.”

Part of the strategy to build culture will be to have the players in the community. That starts in schools and doing skates with kids and could even extend to coaches leading clinics. Thurston also stresses the importance of extending trust to the team.

“When you extend trust to your players it gives them a chance to be confident and when you put them in the right spots, right situations, they’re going to build that confidence.”

The Storm will host the Sherwood Park Crusaders in an exhibition game at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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