When the Grande Prairie Storm look back on their 2017-2018 season and mark down the “turning point” games of the campaign they may be reminiscing fondly about December 9, 2017.
It was BIG in many ways – big crowd big, big noise and the Storm showed up wearing their big boys pants in a big 4-3 shootout win over the Whitecourt Wolverines.
The win was especially big because just 24 hours before the Storm had boarded the team bus for a trip home after losing 10-2 to the same Wolverines in Whitecourt.
“The was a long ride home last night for everyone,” said Storm head coach/assistant general manager Matt Keillor. “What we wanted was a response from everyone.
“The message in the room was we have control of the next 12 hours – our attitude, our effort and our decisions. We felt if they took control of all three we would put ourselves in a position to have success.”
It was also a big deal because the Storm head on the road for three games down south next week. The road has not been kind to them of late with four straight losses. So a victory was kind of a big deal on Saturday night.
It was especially big, also, because of the way it unfolded.
Down 3-1 early in third period the Storm battled back to force the overtime, killed off a short penalty late in the extra frame and then got three saves on three shots from goaltender Charles-Olivier Levesque in the shootout.
The only goal in the shootout came off the stick of Storm forward Dallas Comeau, who put the deke on Whitecourt netminder Tye Morin for the game-winner.
“To lose a game in the fashion we did Friday and then respond like we did takes some guts,” said Keillor. “Guys had to give up a little bit of themselves today.”
As big as the third period comeback was, a stretch in the second period was also one of those turning points.
Behind 2-1 the Storm found themselves down to men for a full two minutes 3:13 into the middle frame.
They gave up no quality chances on the five-on-three and, over the regular 60 and overtime, allowed just one Whitecourt powerplay goal on eight advantages enjoyed by the visitors.
Alberta Junior Hockey League scoring leader Justin Bernier scored twice on Saturday, both on the powerplay, including the tying goal to make it 3-3 at 9:39 of the third.
He leads the league with 48 points including 18 goals.
Bernier scored in the third also, but goals by Whitecourt's Brayden Labant and Estian Coetzee, on the powerplay, had given the Wolverines a 2-1 lead.
There was no scoring in the second, thanks in big part to the Storm penalty kill. They killed off the three-on-five and another minor in the middle stanza.
Liam Motley's unassisted tally, which was actually an own goal when a Storm defender directed the puck into the net, put the Wolverines up 3-1 just 54 seconds into the third.
And then the comeback.
Parker Smyth got it to 3-2 when Morin fanned on a shot from the faceoff dot and then Bernier, all alone at the side of the crease, re-directed the third GP goal to send the announced crowd of 1,451 into a frenzy.
Levesque ended up facing 33 shots while the Storm directed 34 at Morin.
The SO win moves the Storm a little closer to the third place Wolverines in the North Division. They are 14 back now and five up on the fifth place Sherwood Park Crusaders.
The trip south includes stops in Canmore, Drumheller and Camrose.
Next home action is December 20th against the same Wolverines.