The Fort McMurray Oil Barons are expected to repeat as champions of the North Division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
They are the team to beat.
And last night the Grande Prairie Storm almost did.
The MOB, after taking a 2-0 lead early, had to hang on late to eke out a 3-2 win over the Storm in Revolution Arena in the first game of the Alberta Junior Hockey League regular season for both clubs.
“I thought we had a little bit of nervous energy going down 2-0 quick, but the crowd got the boys energized,” said head coach/assistant general manager Mark Keillor.
Fort Mac scored at 7:58 of the first on the powerplay off the stick of Liam Izyk to make it 1-0 and then went up by two when Luke Harvie found the twine at 14:14.
The line of Dallas Comeau/Noah Walters/Connor Blake got the Storm back in the game at 15:54. Comeau took a nice feed from Walters and scooped the puck into open cage to make it 2-1.
Ryan Cox upped the MOB lead to two again just 2:29 into the middle frame.
That set up a frantic third.
Walters, on the powerplay, scored his first-ever AJHL goal at 9:04 to make it 3-2 and the Storm pressed, including a powerplay late in the frame, but couldn't get the equalizer to force overtime.
“The line of Blake, Comeau and Walters gave us energy and speed all night long,” said Keillor. “I thought five-on-five we gave ourselves an opportunity to win and we were in the game.
“I liked our speed and I liked our special teams tonight – we had a lot of good looks.”
Charles-Olivier Levesque played his first-ever regular-season with the Storm and was solid while facing 29 shots. Eric Szudor at the other end had to handle 22. The MOB were one-for-six and the Storm one-for-five on the powerplay.
A crowd of over 1,500 showed up for the home opener and they were loud.
“The fans were amazing tonight and I hope they continue to support our guys,” said Keillor.
They'll get another chance to cheer when the two teams battle again Sunday at 2 p.m. at Revolution Place.
“Fort McMurray is going to be the team to beat in the North this year and we want to be the first to do it,” said Keillor.
It's a busy week for the Storm with six games in eight days. After Sunday's game they head to Bonnyville to take on the Pontiacs on Tuesday and then venture to the east side of the province for a game against the Lloydminster Bobcats on Wednesday. And then it's back to Grande Prairie for games against the Drayton Valley Thunder Saturday and Sunday.