There was a time, not long ago, that losing by just one goal to the best team in the North Division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League was considered somewhat of a victory for the Grande Prairie Storm.
Today the Storm are a different team than they were last year . . . or the year before . . . or the year before so a pair of one-goal losses to the top team in the league is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow . . . especially considering heading into a pair of games against the Spruce Grove Saints Friday/Saturday the Storm had lost just four times on home ice.
Friday's 5-4 defeat in Revolution Place Arena was a tough one to accept because the Storm had led 2-0 early and then had a powerplay, and a pulled goalie, to try and tie it late. It was a game they could have won or taken to overtime.
Saturday's 4-3 defeat is going to stick in the Storm throats for a bit because it appeared, after rallying to score two goals in two minutes in the third, the game was headed to OT and, at the minimum, a much-needed single point to improve the Storm hold on fourth in the North over the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
That point disappeared with just six seconds remaining in the third period when Chris Van Os-Shaw, finding himself all alone in the slot, beat Storm netminder Ethan Slobodzian to give the Saints the 4-3 win. It was the first time since the first two games of the regular season against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons that the Storm have lost two in a row at home.
Those same Oil Barons helped the Storm out Saturday by defeating the Crusaders 3-2 so the Storm continue to hold fourth by a point over the fifth place Cru.
Rookie Slobodzian, who started both games this weekend while starter Charles-Olivier Levesque nurses a minor injury, was stellar Saturday while facing 40 shots, including 18 in the second period.
He did let in the first shot on goal off the stick of Austin Parmiter just 21 seconds into the game, but rebounded to play very well the rest of the way.
Three powerplays in the second – the first by GP's Noah Walters at 10:06 to tie it at 1-1 and then tallies by Van Os-Shaw and Forrest – made it a 3-1 Spruce Grove lead heading into the third.
The crowd of 1,247 got loud when Connor Blake scored at 1:34 of the third to make it 3-2 and then they got really raucous at 14:14 when Justin Bernier, after a beautiful feed from Dallas Comeau, who had intercepted a pass as the Saints tried to clear their zone, tied the game.
The fans were settling in nicely for a little overtime when Van Os-Shaw ruined their night with his goal at 19:54.
Bernier, who has 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points, continues to lead the AJHL in scoring . . . but Os-Shaw, with four points in the two games in GP this weekend, is closing in. He has 52 points and leads the league with 32 goals.
The Storm fired 24 pucks at Spruce Grove netminder Easton Hesse. The Storm were one for seven on the powerplay and the Saints two for nine.
The game was the last of the 2017 portion of the schedule for the Storm, who have 37 points in 37 games. They had 37 after a full 60-game schedule last year.
The team opens 2018 with five road games before returning home to Revolution Place Arena for a game against the Calgary Mustangs on January 19.