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SLOW START, GREAT FINISH

The finish was outstanding . . . the start not so much.

As a result the Grande Prairie Storm fall 5-3 to the Sherwood Park Crusaders in both team’s Alberta Junior Hockey League season opener in the Edmonton bedroom community Friday.

“Early in the game we were trying to force the play,” said Storm coach/general manager Blaine Bablitz. “It comes down to basics. We got away from that early and it cost us.”

Down 3-0 after the first period, including a powerplay goal, and then behind 4-1 in the third the Storm got it to 4-3 at 15:26 of the final frame on a goal by Ryan Mathews, pulled goaltender Nick Kulmanovsky in the final minute, but ended up allowing an empty-netter that sealed their fate.

“We didn’t show up prepared and focused early,” said Bablitz of the lopsided first period in favour of the Crusaders.

He was, however, happy with the second and third periods.

“We did a lot of good things. Once we got back to five-on-five we had the majority of the play.”

The Storm were two for six on the PP and the Crusaders one for nine.

Grande Prairie’s penalty kill was outstanding led by captain Taylor Cote and Jordan McTaggart.

“They are the perfect guys for that situation,” said Bablitz. “They both have speed.”

Preston Amundson, Ben Carroll and Cater Page scored for the Crusaders in the first period.

After a scoreless second, the Storm got on the board when Marc Drapeau scored his first-ever AJHL goal with the Storm enjoying a two-man advantage at 56 seconds of the third.

Braden Crone, on another powerplay, made it 3-2 at 8:19.

The game winner was the nicest goal of the night. Crusader forward Garth Wallin beat a Storm defenceman to the outside, cut in front and put the deke on Kulmanovsky to make it 4-2.

After Mathews, with his first-ever AJHL goal, narrowed it to 4-3 with 4:34 to go in the third it forced a frantic finish finalized with Wallin’s empty-netter at 19:37.

Grande Prairie ended up, after being well behind in shots halfway through the game, taking a 39-35 edge in that stat.

The Storm now head to Camrose on Saturday to take on the Kodiaks before returning home to the Canada Games Arena for the the GT’s Oilfield Hauling/Isolation Equipment Services home opener Sept. 14-15.