By LOGAN CLOW
Despite wrapping up the AJHL regular season with a loss on home ice, it couldn’t keep Grande Prairie Storm Head Coach and GM Matt Keillor from containing a wide-grinned, beaming smile Saturday night.
With several Storm players out of the line-up nursing “bumps and bruises” and a handful of affiliate players in the line-up, the team lost 3-0 to the Bonnyville Pontiacs at Revolution Place.
Keillor, speaking shortly after the loss, was visibly excited and eager for the next task ahead. That task is preparing the team for their first playoff series since 2013, which kicks off Thursday.
“We’re going to do a lot of team builders (in the next few days) and we’re going to treat playoffs like a short-term competition,” said Keillor, noting he expects the team to be fully healthy when they open their best-of-five playoff series.
“For a lot of these guys, it’s their first playoff experience…
“(Teambuilding is important) because we’ve got to get close. We’ve got to get closer than we are right now and get guys to buy in to each other and buy in to what we’re doing…”
The Storm will play the Whitecourt Wolverines in the first round.
Sunday, the Wolverines lost 3-2 at home against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
The victory allowed the MOB to clinch first in the AJHL North and earn a first round bye.
The Wolverines, who finished second in the AJHL North, won five of six regular season meetings against the Storm and outscored them a combined 31-13.
Inexperience could be one of the Storm’s downfalls in the post-season.
“We’re hoping that our (youth) and just being physical and just playing that Grande Prairie Storm hockey (will pay dividends). If we stick to that, we feel it will give us the best chance of success,” said Keillor.
“We’re going to bang bodies. We’re going to crash (the net). We’re going to drive to the net. We’re going to play in-your-face hockey and that’s the way we want to play.”
Keillor noted the players are eager to play in front of an energetic crowd on March 12 in their first playoff home game.
“Guys feed off (the energy from the fans). Everyone is already talking about how excited they are in seeing how many people come down for our first home game…,” he said.
On player in particular that’s eager for the post-season is captain Brenden Montgomery.
The 21-year-old defenceman has been through the team’s ups and downs in the previous two seasons but said he’s excited to finally play in the post-season.
“It’s just a great feeling knowing that the organization hasn’t made playoffs (since 2013), so it’s a great feeling to bring (playoffs) back to the city. It feels good,” said Montgomery.
“… We just have to lay it all on the line (in playoffs). We just have to battle.
“Our team motto right now is ‘Pound The Rock’, so that’s what we have to do. We just have to be gritty and grind our way through…”
Playoff tickets for March 12 are on sale now at the Revolution Place box office.