By GORDON ANDERSON
Daily Herald-Tribune staff
The Grande Prairie Storm open up an important two-game homestand in Alberta Junior Hockey League action this weekend.
The Calgary Mustangs are in town Friday, followed by the Lloydminster Bobcats on Saturday. Both games are set for 7:30 p.m. at Revolution Place.
At one point the fourth-place spot in the AJHL North division belonged almost exclusively to the Storm but that lead has vanished as the Sherwood Park Crusaders have jumped over the local junior A squad and into fourth-place, one point ahead of the Storm.
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, the battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs has begun.
“I like the tight race, I like being in it,” Storm head coach Matt Keillor said. “We want to be in it. You look at the home-ice advantage, we’ve lost it to Sherwood Park, we’re looking at those guys. Now, we’re chasing them. They see us on their heels and they’re going to be watching our games and they have to know we’re coming. I want every game to mean something.”
The Mustangs (19-22-4) come to town riding a five-game losing streak and are a -36 in goal differential. The Storm (19-20-3) have beat the Mustangs twice this year.
“They have an identity and they play to it,” Keillor said. “They’re a team full of guys who were released or cut from other teams. They’ve bought into that and they play like that. If you don’t show up and work hard they’re going to be in the game.”
The Bobcats (16-25-2) come to town on a one-game winning streak but have lost an important part of their team as starting goalie Nick Sanders left the squad in early January for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. The Raiders then traded Sanders to the Calgary Hitmen. The Bobcats are -43 in goal differential.
While Keillor called the Bobcats “a hard-working team,” the Storm should be able to cage them if they give the required effort. The season series is tied at one game apiece.
“We’re not looking at these games lightly,” Keillor said. “These are going to be two tough games. We’re happy to be at home and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”
Ahead of the Jan. 10 AJHL trade deadine the Storm released former captain Landon Vollman … Logan Mazerolle opted to join the Fairview Flyers of the North West Junior Hockey League. … The Storm traded Parker Smythe and futures to the Battleford Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in exchange for forward Jared Power and futures … The Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League re-assigned 17-year-old defenceman Brenden Kwiatkowski to the Storm … Christopher Lanouette returned to the roster last Friday night against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. The former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League defender was out 10 weeks with an undisclosed injury.