By Logan Clow, DHT
For an organization that is said to be moving forward in a new direction, I’m displeased with what I’ve seen so far from the Grande Prairie Storm.
There were numerous changes in the off-season for the junior A organization, who missed the AJHL playoffs last season for the first time in their history.
Kevin Higo has stepped in as head coach and general manager – taking over from Matt Hughes and formerly Blaine Bablitz. There was also a personnel shift within the team’s Board of Directors, which saw Chris Luhtala step in as the new chairman.
However, the most significant change was the on-ice product. Higo has shown he doesn’t shy away from a deal that, in his mind, will make the team better. Perhaps his most notable deal has been acquiring Adam Beukeboom – an established AJHL goaltender, who brings WHL experience – in return for captain Sasha Larocque.
From what I’ve watched so far, the Storm have potential. They’re a young team – three 16-year-olds, three 17-year-olds, nine 18-year-olds, seven 19-year-olds and three 20-year-olds – that has shown glimpses of potential with their speed, hard work and resiliency. The players appear to be buying into Higo’s systems and game plans.
Though the future may look bright for the rejuvenated team, I am disappointed to see a lack of local players on this year’s roster.
Last season, Jordan McTaggart was the only Swan City native to regularly play in front of his hometown, though there was the odd appearance from defencemen Nolan Yaremko and Schael Higson, – who played mature beyond their years.
In 2012-2013, the Storm had McTaggart, Parker Sharp, Curtis Skip (now with Drumheller), Adam Boytinck, of Fairview, and captain Tayler Cote of Falher.
In 2011-2012, the Storm had seven local players, six locals in 2010-2011 – you get the idea. The number of local players on the roster appears to have gradually dropped in recent years.
Why the sudden drop? Why aren’t local players good enough? Does the GPAC programming need to be re-looked at?
This season, the only GP player is defenceman Colton Sandboe, who has yet to suit up in a game. This year’s team is compiled of a majority of players from southern Alberta. There’s also a player from Quebec, Prince Edward Island and two from British Columbia.
The Storm had 11 locals playing at the 2009 RBC Cup and, and from what I’ve been told, there was only standing room only left at the sold-out arena – that’s the atmosphere we need that back.
I asked Kevin Higo why there weren’t more local players on the team and I was told that the local players who tried out – such as Carter Wolski and Evan Tordiff – were not ready to make the jump from GPAC to the AJHL.
“For some of them, it’s just maturity. It’s tough to play in the league at 16, or play any junior at 16, so for some of them they just have to get bigger, stronger and a little bit more experienced,” he replied.
How can they get better?
Higo told me that they need to practice more and wait for their opportunity.
It’s already in the works, but the Storm coaching staff need to visit and have more sessions with local GPAC teams to give players an idea of the tempo and what’s expected at the AJHL level.
In fact, the Storm have partnered with Hockey Alberta this season to offer three Coaches Nights. The three nights will provide coaches from Grande Prairie and surrounding areas the opportunity to come to a game, sit in on pregame and post-game discussions, learn coaching techniques from Higo, as well as hear from selected guest speakers. The three nights are: Oct. 22nd (Whitecourt Wolverines), Dec. 6 (Camrose Eagles), and Jan. 13 (Bonnyville Pontiacs)
At the local bantam and midget levels, teams need to continue to focus on player development, instead of a winning record, and continue to add more local players.
I’ve also taken several friends to watch a Storm game and they always ask me: ‘Why isn’t loud in here?’ ‘Is this all they get out to a Storm game (as they point to the empty stands)?’
The in-game atmosphere is dull and boring. There, I’ve said it.
That’s not to say that their Fan of the Game, Shark Club girls’ swag giveaways, raffles and intermission entertainment is boring.
Why cheer for players you don’t know?
With the Storm’s inconsistency, fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.
We have a world-class facility that the Storm play in and I’ve never heard it loud in my time here.
Truth is, local bantam and high school football games are louder. Even the County of Grande Prairie JDA Kings and Grande Prairie Athletics games are more energetic, in my opinion.
You could argue that the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and a few other teams in the league have no local players on their roster. That’s true, but they’ve established themselves as successful organizations.
People will pay to watch a winning organization. People will also pay to watch local hockey players play. You’ve just got to pick which is more important.