Yep, the AJHL got it right! The league this week naming Grande Prairie Storm goalie Nick Kulmanovsky as the top netminder in the league…and Wednesday night at the Canada Games Arena, Kulmanovsky showed once again that the voters got it correct.
The Fairbanks, Alaska native slamming the door on the Sherwood Park Crusaders, blocking all 36 shots he faced, as the Storm cruised to a 3-0 victory and tied up their opening round best of five series at a win apiece. Kulmanovsky was especially sharp in the first ten minutes, as the Cru came out with momentum from their game one win and had an 8-1 advantage on the shot clock.
Besides the goaltending, the Storm also got excellent play from their special teams. The penalty killers were perfect once again, killing off all six Sherwood Park manpower advantages. The Storm powerplay, meantime, ended up 2-for-7 on the evening, with the two goals on the very first two of their advantages.
Coach Blaine Bablitz says that in playoff hockey, special teams become even that much bigger than they are in the regular season.
“Our penalty killers were great again and when Sherwood Park did get a few chances, Nick was there to slam the door. As for our powerplay, the difference tonight is that we were shooting a lot more and pouncing on rebounds.”
Gus Correale's powerplay goal in the first came on such a rebound, while Mike Forsyth's second period marker was a shot through traffic that found the back of the net. Ryan Matthews would finish the scoring with an even strength marker later in the second, finishing off a nice 2-on-1 break with Forsyth.
The later half of the third period became quite chippy, as the Crusaders looked like they were trying to set the tone for the next two games in Sherwood Park. Bablitz was happy to see his squad keep it's composure for the most part.
“It's playoff hockey and part of the game. We have the best goalie in the league and we know they were trying to bang and bump him a bit. The only frustration we have is if that doesn't get called. The officials need to control things when that starts to happen.”
Game three and four now both will be played at the Sherwood Park Arena, this Friday and Saturday. Should the two teams split the games there, then a fifth-and-deciding game will be needed at the Canada Games Arena. That game would go this coming Monday at 7:30 pm.
– Story by Don Whiteford of www.PeaceCountrySports.com.