Storm Advance To North Semi-final

Eighteen-hundred-forty fans and a 50/50 that maxed out at $10,00. It was a pretty good night for the Grande Prairie Storm Wednesday in Revolution Place Arena.

And those numbers were the least important of the evening.

The most significant was 6-1.

That was the score in favor of the Storm in a victory over the Sherwood Park Crusaders in Game 5 of a best-of-five Alberta Junior Hockey League North Division semi-final.

The Storm won the series 3-2 for their first playoff series win since the 2009-2010 season when they toppled the Lloydminster Bobcats in the first round.

Grande Prairie, the fourth place team overall after the regular season, went into the series as the favored team over the fifth place Crusaders. Sherwood Park finished just three points back of the Storm so a close series was expected.

And it was.

Grande Prairie won the opener 4-3; lost Game 2 3-2 in overtime; won Game 3 4-3 in OT; and then lost Game 4 8-5 setting up the win-or-go-home Game 5 Wednesday.

They now get to take on the North Division champion Spruce Grove Saints, the No. 8 ranked team in Canada. That best-of-seven North semi-final series starts Friday-Saturday in Spruce Grove and then returns for games in Grande Prairie next Monday-Tuesday.

The Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Whitecourt Wolverines tangle in the other semi-final.

On Wednesday the Storm put their foot on the Crusader's throats early in the game and didn't let off.

Within the first 11:50 GP had 15 shots and the Crusaders three and the Storm had a 2-0 lead.

Edouard Michaud, who is the playoff MVP at this point, scored his sixth of the playoffs at 7:56 and then Connor Blake, who had missed on a breakaway seconds after Michaud scored, doubled the lead to 2-0 at 11:50.

Grande Prairie weathered a Sherwood Park push over the final 9:10 of the first, thanks in part to some timely saves by rookie netminder Ethan Slobodzian, as the visitors out-shot the Storm 8-0 during that stretch.

The biggest goal of the game was likely Jonothan Harder's powerplay tally at 12:47 of the second to make it 3-0. Michaud, who finished the series with seven goals and two assists (scoring a full third of the Storm goals in the first round), assisted on the Harder goal and then scored, on the powerplay, at 19:38 to pretty much put the game out of reach at 4-0.

Just 1:37 into the third Noah Walters made it 5-0 to shake some more salt on the Sherwood Park wound and Walker Cote rounded it out for the Storm with 16 seconds remaining in the third. The lone Crusader goal was scored by Ashton Casault at 14:17.

Slobodzian ended up facing 25 shots while the relentless Storm fired 40 at Brandon Vogel at the other end.

If needed Game 5 would be March 23 in Spruce Grove; Game 6 March 25 in Grande Prairie; and Game 7 March 27 in Spruce Grove.

The last time the two teams met in the playoffs was the spring of 2009 in the AJHL final. The Storm won that series 4-0.