The math is starting to look very good for the Grande Prairie Storm.
Storm taking a huge step towards clinching second place in the AJHL North on Saturday night, as they won 3-2 in a shootout in Drayton Valley. With three games left in the regular season, the Storm need just three points to wrap up the two slot, which guarantees home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Ryan Matthews had the lone goal in the shootout, while Nick Kulmanovsky stopped all three Thunder shooters. It was the third win in a row for both Kulmanovsky and the Storm, who are going with the “win-and-you-stay-in” rotation for their goaltenders down the stretch. Besides his shootout stops, Kulmanovsky made 30 other saves during regulation and overtime, on a night where Grande Prairie outshot their hosts 36-32.
Brett Printz and Ryan Baskerville both scored for the Storm in the second period to take the lead after the Thunder had opened the scoring in the first. For the longest time, it looked like that lead would hold up, until Drayton Valley tied things up with just three and a half minutes to play in the third. Neither team was able to generate any scoring on the powerplay on this night, as each club went 0-for-6 with the man advantage.
The victory gave the Storm 70 points on the year and leap-frogged them a point past Bonnyville into second place. The Pontiacs were shocked 6-2 in Lloydminster. It was the second major upset in a week for the cellar dwelling Bobcats, who also downed Fort McMurray a few days ago. The Oil Barons and Whitecourt Wolverines are currently tied for fourth spot, at 68 points. All of those teams have just two games remaining in their regular seasons, however, while the Storm have three.
Sunday afternoon, the Storm look to take another step towards sewing down second, as they play their final road game in Sherwood Park. Interestingly, if the Storm end up in second, the Crusaders are their most likely opening round opponent.
Storm finish up the regular season at home next weekend, with a visit from the Crusaders on Friday night and the Thunder on Saturday. Both games begin at 7:30.
– Story by Don Whiteford of www.PeaceCountrySports.com