By GORDON ANDERSON
Another late December meeting of Alberta Junior Hockey League North Division foes finds the Whitecourt Wolverines in town for a Wednesday night tilt against the Grande Prairie Storm at the Revolution Arena. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m.
Based on statistical judgements alone it seems both teams go about winning games in vastly different ways.
The offensively-minded Storm (16-15-3) sit second in the north in goals with 126 while the Wolverines (22-8-4) are the stingiest team on the back end, allowing the fewest goals in the north at 76 in 34 games, good enough for a 2.23 goals against average going into AJHL action on Dec. 19.
Perhaps this game will be played in white mud as the Gord Thibodeau led Wolverines are a quick team that like to smother and suffocate.
“They play really tight man-on-man coverage,” Storm head coach Matt Keillor said before practice on Tuesday afternoon. “When they don’t have the puck they always have someone on you. To score you have to cycle, you have to hold on to the puck and make good plays. If you’re not moving your feet and working, it’s going to be really difficult to get quality scoring opportunities on those guys.”
The two foes have played on four separate occasions this season, with the Storm holding a 3-1 edge. Three of the wins were by one goal while the lone Whitecourt win was a 10-2 scoreline back on Dec.8.
Special teams have been crucial in the four games. The home side has six goals in 21 powerplay opportunities. Storm captain Landon Vollman knows special teams was a factor in the three wins but the Spirit River product thinks it may be a bit more than just five-on-four success.
“I think we’ve got (their) number this year,” Vollman said. “We always come to play against them and everybody has the right mentality. We know they’re going to be good and we’re always showing up against them. Nobody is taking the night off.”
The Storm boast an 11-4-2 home record and Keillor credits a lot of the success, not only to the players, but to the crowd and the game management team. Everyone gets a pat on the back for the lofty record.
“Our crowd and atmosphere is the best in the entire league,” Keillor said. “The guys want to take advantage of it and play really well for the fans.”
After Wednesday’s match the Storm finish off the 2017 season with back-to-back home games against the Spruce Grove Saints.
Vollman isn’t downplaying the importance of showing up in this final stretch of games to end the calendar year.
“These games are extremely important because they are against teams who are ahead of us in the standings,” Vollman said. “We have a lot of tough games coming up in the second half. These three games, and the way the boys respond, will set it up for the rest of the year.”