Storm Drop Close One to Bandits

If you want to make the playoffs in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playing .500 hockey is likely going to get your there.

Last year two North Division teams and four clubs under the .500 mark in the South Division advanced to the post season.

If that is the measuring stick for this season the Grande Prairie Storm aren't in bad shape a fifth of the way into the 2016-2017 season.

A 4-2 loss to the Brooks Bandits on Saturday night dropped the Storm to .458 on the season with a chance to return home at the .500 mark on Sunday after a game against the Drumheller Dragons. The game winds up a gruelling four-games-in-five-days southern Alberta trip for the Storm.

They started the journey losing 3-1 to the Calgary Canucks and then downed the Calgary Mustangs 6-4 before rolling into Brooks to take on the defending AJHL champion Bandits.

And thanks to netminder Arik Weersink, the AJHL Defensive Player of the Week this week for making 67 saves on 70 shots in wins over the Camrose Kodiaks and Spruce Grove Saints last weekend, the Storm were able to make a game of it Saturday.

He stopped all 15 shots the Bandits peppered at him in the first period while the Storm killed off four Brooks powerplay chances. The Bandits were just one for eight on the PP in the game.

“The first period we had some adversity early by facing the three vs. five penalty kill,” said Storm head coach/GM Kevin Higo. “Arik made some big saves and kept us in the game.

“The penalty kill was good again tonight as we had to kill off two separate three on fives. Saves at the right times and some key blocked shots got us through them both.”

In the second Weersink faced 18 shots and ended up looking at 42 over 60 minutes.

While the Storm were singing the praises of Weersink, the Bandits were doing the same for Nick Prkusic.

He scored three times in the second period and added an assist on Oliver Chau's goal in the third for a four-point night.

Prkusic's first came just 42 seconds into the second period to give the Bandits a 1-0 lead.

Storm forward Jake Elmer, with his fifth of the season, tied the game at 1-1 at 11:05.

And then Prkusic went to work again. He scored at 13:27 of the middle frame to make it 2-1 and then got the game-winner with 2:21 remaining in the second.

Chau's goal, on the powerplay, came at 9:03 of the third to make it 4-1 before Michael Clarke, with his ninth of the season and team-leading 12th point, rounded out the scoring at 14:57 on the PP.

The Storm had six powerplay chances with Clarke's marker being the lone PP tally.

“Even though our powerplay scored late in the third we had a couple of other chances that could have drawn us closer or even tied the game,” said Higo. “Tonight was an example of how the powerplay can be a difference-maker between winning and losing.”

Alex Horawski in the Bandit net was not nearly as busy as Weersink looking at just 17 shots.

The loss hasn't changed the Storm place in the North Division standings. They still sit sixth just a point back of the Sherwood Park Crusaders and stay six points up on the Drayton Valley Thunder, who lost 5-2 to the Bonnyville Pontiacs on Saturday. What did change was the Storm lead over the eighth place Lloydminster Bobcats, which is now nine points after the Royal Bank Cup silver medallists captured their first win of the season with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Spruce Grove Saints.

“Four games in five nights with travel included is a challenge,” said Higo. “Sunday's game against the Dragons is very important for us to return to GP .500 on the trip. We have some banged up players that will have to fight through it to help contribute tomorrow.”

The Storm return home next weekend when they host the Dragons on Friday and Canucks on Saturday. They have yet to lose at Revolution Place going 4-0 so far this season.