By LOGAN CLOW
The Grande Prairie Storm’s bench will be short this weekend when they embark on a three-game road trip.
Last week, the line of Cruz Cote, Walker Cote, and Landon Vollman were each suspended five games for “a staged fight situation” during the team’s 4-0 road loss against the Bonnyville Pontiacs on Jan. 21. Head coach Matt Keillor was also suspended two games as a result.
Vollman was also suspended an additional game for having been assessed his fifth fighting major of the season.
The Storm (12-30-6) travel to play the Canmore Eagles (Feb. 3), Olds Grizzlys (Feb. 4) and Okotoks Oilers (Feb. 5).
Against the Eagles, the Storm also won’t have Jason Wenzel, who will be serving the final game of a two-game suspension for being accessed a “major penalty for interference” in the team’s Jan. 20 road game against the Pontiacs.
Storm assistant coach Dennis Rix said having a shorthanded line-up is an opportunity for some of their affiliate players from the Ernie’s Sports Experts Midget AAA Storm to get some junior A ice time.
Eric Sorensen and John Tiede are expected to be in the line-up this weekend. The Storm are expected to also have defencemen Nathan Bizeau and captain Brendan Montgomery back from injury.
“It’s going to be tough headed down south. They’re pretty crucial games, but we definitely think we can get some points…,” said Rix.
“Being a bit shorthanded, we’re going to have to rely a bit on some AP’s (affiliated players) on the weekend, and then hopefully the guys we still have will be able to pull their weight and contribute as well, so I think we should be fine.”
‘Staged’ fighting has been a hot topic in the sport of hockey in recent years. A majority of leagues have created rules in efforts to abolish it.
Rix noted the team doesn’t condone ‘staged’ fighting.
“We definitely didn’t tell (the players) ‘let’s go in and have a staged three-man fight’ by any means,” he said.
“I still wouldn’t call ours ‘staged’ either. It just kind of happened I guess and emotions just boiled over. It was definitely not something we condone as a coaching staff and that’s definitely not something you see on a daily basis. Fights still happen and it just so happened that those ones happened at the same time.”
The Storm head into the weekend on a three-game losing skid. Their last game was Jan. 22 with a 7-2 road loss against the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
Despite having an extended break, Rix said it’s allowed the team to take a break and prepare for their final 12 regular season games.
February is a busy month for the team with 10 games scheduled. Six of their games are on the road and four are at Revolution Place.
“It’s a pretty heavy schedule going into playoffs, which we expect to make,” said Rix.
“We just need to clean up our defensive (play) and making sure we’re keeping teams under two or three goals. I think our offence has come a long way as well.
“Once (playoffs) hits, it becomes an absolute grind.”
Forward Michael Clarke continues to lead Storm with 24 goals, 25 assists.
The Storm are back home on Feb. 10-11 to host the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.