Before the game in the press box in Revolution Arena, Grande Prairie Storm assistant coach Dennis Rix was lamenting the fact the Fort McMurray Oil Barons were the only Alberta Junior Hockey League North Division team his club hadn't beaten this year.
Rix's MOB lamenting has ended!
His Storm, led by rookie goaltender Ethan Slobodzian, defeated the Oil Barons 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night and now have a five-point lead on the fifth place Sherwood Park Crusaders as the season winds down to five regular season games remaining for both teams.
“With Charles (veteran Levesque) out due to injury it was an opportunity for Slobodzian to step up to the plate and he did in a big way,” said Storm head coach/assistant general manager Matt Keillor.
The fist highlight-reeler was a glove grab on MOB forward Will Conley late in the opening frame on a Fort Mac three-on-one. He made five saves in the OT with most of those the outstanding variety.
“His save on Conley in the first set the tone that he was going to be hard to beat tonight. He made three huge saves in OT to take it to a shootout and he gave our skilled skates a chance to win it.
“With our skill up front we are pretty confident that in those situations we have an advantage.”
While the win was important in the battle for the last home ice advantage spot in the first round of the playoffs, it was also significant to get a monkey off the team's back with the realization there could be a Storm-Oil Barons matchup if both clubs advance to the second round of the playoffs.
In their last two games the Storm have defeated the Oil Barons (second in the North) and the third place Whitecourt Wolverines.
Keillor was also impressed with his team's play in a two-game series in Fort McMurray earlier this month. The last being a close 3-1 loss.
“We really liked how we played in Fort McMurray and wanted to carry that energy over to Fort McMurray.”
They hope to keep that momentum going on the road where they travel to Bonnyville to take on the Pontiacs Saturday and then the Bobcats in Lloydminster on Sunday.
They finish up with home games Feb. 28 against the North Division leading Spruce Grove Saints and then March 3-4 against the Bobcats.
On Thursday Slobodzian was the Home Star of the game. And for good reason.
His outstanding work including making 39 save, with 14 of those coming in the third period. He didn't allow a goal in the shootout, won 2-0 by the Storm.
Storm leading scorer Justin Bernier scored the first goal of the shootout and Dallas Comeau the last after two MOB failures.
The Storm had taken a 1-0 lead at 10:08 of the second period on a goal by Zack Okabe, but exactly one minute later on a long wrist shot that went off the post and in, Curtis Roach tied it at 1-1.
J.C. Thivierge, on the powerplay, gave the MOB their only lead of the game at 2-1 5:15 into the third period. Jared Power, on the powerplay, tied it at 2-2 at 8:30 forcing the five-minute three-on-three overtime and then the shootout.
Eric Szuder faced 20 shots in the MOB net as the Oil Barons fell for just the seventh time this year way from their home arena.
Four affiliated players – Lukas Konashuk, John Sullivan, Lars Kaliel and Devan Klassen – were suited up for the Storm.
“Again down bodies we had four AP's in the lineup and once again they did a great job when they got their opportunities,” he said.
One player who was back in the lineup was Connor Blake.
“Having Connor back in the lineup was huge . . . you could tell his timing was off a bit, but his pass to Power in the third on the powerplay and Power's unbelieveable shot was that extra punch that we had been missing.”
A crowd of 1,148 took in the game as the Storm continue to draw well this season.