By LOGAN CLOW
Gaining valuable playoff experience was one of the goals for the Grande Prairie Storm in the AJHL playoffs, according to head coach and GM Matt Keillor.
Keillor believes the team’s young group of players did gain, even though the team was swept in three games against the Whitecourt Wolverines.
The Storm, who lost a 6-1 decision Sunday at Revolution Place, were playing in their first post-season since the 2012-2013 season. The only playoff experience a majority of the players had was from their midget, bantam or minor hockey playing days.
“We knew we were in tough and we didn’t want to keep expectations too, too high. It was just about the experience (and) gaining as much experience as possible, especially for the young guys that will be returning next year and kind of build that momentum moving into next year, and get a taste of (playoffs) and know exactly what it’s going to be (like in future),” said Keillor, following their loss Sunday.
“(Whitecourt) is such a highly skilled team and they work really hard and they’re really well coached, so I think it was a really good experience for the kids to see how even a team like that can elevate their game at playoff time.”
The Wolverines, who finished second overall in the AJHL North Division, opened the series with a 6-0 win and 3-2 overtime win on home ice March 9-10.
Keillor strongly believes the Storm, who grabbed the final playoff spot in the AJHL North Division, are on the right track moving forward into the 2017-2018 season and beyond.
He said it’s going to be an important summer for returning players, especially in not getting “complacent knowing that we’re a playoff team.”
“We were a playoff team this year, but we’re not a playoff team anymore; playoffs are done,” he said.
Keillor noted the off-season and headed into the 2017-2018 campaign will be a “a fresh new start”.
But although Keillor may already have some future plans in place for the Storm, it’s unclear if he’ll be back behind the bench next year.
After replacing former bench boss Kevin Higo in December, the organization said Keillor would only coach the team for the remainder of the season, and once the season concluded, his performance would be re-evaluated.
A team official said the team’s board have started preliminary discussions regarding his future, but noted a decision had yet to be made.
“… I hope the board feels that I’ve done a good job and that I can stay here. I love the community. And obviously, we felt that as a staff we definitely improved and we feel that we’d like the opportunity to continue doing that, and again, just building a strong program that doesn’t just sneak into the playoffs, but a program that can contend (for an AJHL title),” said Keillor.
If indeed he does stick around, one of the first big opportunities for the coaching staff in identifying players will be a spring camp on March 31.
“We’re looking for speed and we’re looking for skill,” said Keillor.
“We do expect to be younger next year, but we expect to be faster and more skilled for sure.”
Keillor noted he’’’ be working closely with new head scout/associate GM Mark Bombersback in the off-season.
“Really finding the right mix of character is going to be really important…,” he said.
“…That’s the identity we want to keep. We want to have as many local kids as possible on this team, but again, we want the right ones, and they got to be those big, strong, character kids…”