By GORD ANDERSON
Team White rallied for five third-period goals in a 7-5 win over Team Blue in the first intrasquad game of Grande Prairie Storm main camp at Revolution Place on Friday night.
Team Blue led 2-1 after 20 minutes and 5-2 after 40 minutes of play, the game played in front of about 15 people connected with the club.
?(There?s) lessons to be learned from both sides and that?s a good discussion for us (this week) when we get back at it, to talk about the game and digest what went on because it was a good lesson for both sides how one side gained momentum and kept coming and the other (team) seemed to not have a way to turn the momentum back,? Storm GM and Head Coach Mike Vandekamp said. ?Another thing was, I thought, although the score on the board was tilted in the (favour of blue), the white team was pretty physical, getting the forecheck going and we kind of felt was a good lesson on how you stick with it.?
Vandekamp coached the white squad while assistant Sam Waterfield was behind the bench for the blue team.
Ethan Strang showed plenty of offensive flair, scoring all four of his goals during the spirited rally. The Cochrane resident is going into his third year and feels he?s caught up to the game in terms of the speed its played at nowadays.
Additionally, he feels stronger, better prepared to contribute on the offensive side this season.
?(I?m) definitely more confident. I feel I can hold on to the puck a lot more and get into the groove of things,? Strang said. ?Vandekamp is here to support and we?ve got a good group of guys and that will help.?
Strang scored a dozen goals and assisted on 14 others in 55 regular -season games last season.
Grande Prairie resident?and Tri City Americans forward?Paycen Bjorklund netted a hat-trick for Team Blue.
One vital trait Vandekamp is looking for in main camp is the ability to take a tactical concept learned in morning practice and apply it directly to game situations.
?We put an emphasis on intelligence and instincts (as) we want smart players,? Vandekamp said. ?I think, if you do something in practice, or talk about a certain thing in practice, you?d like to see it filter through to the game a little bit.?
?(Vandekamp) wants fast, smart hockey players and it?s always (about) keeping your head up, knowing the next play and always knowing what the next step is out there,? Strang added. ?By far, it?s the best start to the season we could ask for. He?s been really good for us.?
The club took Saturday off before getting back to work on Sunday. The club will have morning on-ice sessions for the remainder of the week?followed by exhibition games in the afternoon?the final intrasquad game Friday night at Revolution Place.
Vandekamp wants to get the roster down to 25 players by the end of the weekend.
For Strang, the camp has been ?tough,? plenty of emphasis placed on the core principles of winning hockey.
?(Camp has) been a lot of work and (we?re) going to go into the season in a lot better shape than last season,? Strang said. ?(There is) a lot of skating and it?s physically and mentally tough. It?s been really good.?
Of the 35 players who participated in the game on Friday night, nine players were on the roster for the last game of the season against the Spruce Grove Saints in mid-March. Among those missing for undisclosed reasons include former captain Jackson Wozniak, forward Nate Morgan and goaltender Lars Kaliel ? seven players who participated in Friday?s game?Ty Toews, Hudson Foley, Terris Lappenbush, Dayne Tews, Devin Aubin, Landon Hedges and Jaydon Gordey?played in the GPAC system last season.
Difficult to replicate
The normal approach to training camp?highly competitive games against another opponent?was thrown in the bin due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Vandekamp planned a series of exhibition games against the Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League, using those contests to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
?I would say, in a normal season, the exhibition games are what separate the crowd,? Vandekamp said. ?Usually, you can make your first few moves and get down to 28 or 29 guys and you go into exhibition games and the decisions jump out at you a little bit more.?
The coaching staff has built in daily exhibition games as part of the overall training camp component, but it?s difficult to replicate in-game conditions, as the coach explains.
?I think it?s a little bit more of a controlled environment where you?re playing against your own teammates that you?re kind of hanging out with, in some cases, billeting with, and you have to go out there and compete,? Vandekamp said. ?It?s going to be tough to manufacture the same level of intensity and the same challenges an exhibition game would present, but we have to do the best with what we have.?
Final cuts will be made following the second intrasquad match-up this coming Friday night, development camp starting next Monday.
?There will be difficult (decisions) when we get to the end of camp,? Vandekamp said.