By Logan Clow, Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune

The Grande Prairie Storm will play their first and only home exhibition game of the pre-season Thursday against the Whitecourt Wolverines at Revolution Place.

The Storm, who took a roster of 20 first-year players, have split their two road exhibition games, which included a 3-2 overtime win in Sherwood Park on Aug. 23, followed up by a 5-0 loss on Aug. 24 to the Lloydminster Bobcats.

In the last week, the Storm have made more than 30 roster cuts and more are expected, says Kevin Higo, head coach and general manager of the Storm.

“We’ve been very happy. We took the 20 rookies to Sherwood Park and Lloydminster and the first game was a real good game. We probably didn’t get off to the start we wanted, but the guys showed some character to come back and tie it late and then to win in overtime,” said Higo, on Wednesday afternoon.

“In Lloydminster, it was a great evaluation process for us. We’ve said right from the beginning of camp that camp is going to be two-fold – one evaluation and one preparation – and both games were great for evaluation and helped us sort through some players. We were real happy from the effort from both games.”

Higo reiterated how pleased he’s been with GPAC players who have tried out.

“We’re excited about the future of the Storm and where things are going and those kids have been really good,” he said, adding two or three GPAC players will be in the line-up Thursday.

Higo says the cuts that the team has made so far haven’t been easy. Of the cuts, he says the team hasn’t released any of their returnees, which include: Al MacPherson, Kaleb Denham, Dylan Thudium, Ian McLellan, Landon Gross, Blake Bosch, Jade McMullen and Braeden Jones.

“We’ve had to let some kids go that really have done everything they could to be part of the team. They were some real good character kids. That was something that we found tough. Some of the kids were really good kids, but unfortunately their skill level wasn’t where it needed to be, or maybe they just didn’t fill a role that we needed them to fill,” he said, noting he has been pleased with the returning players’ performances.

Of the cuts, Higo says the team also released four goaltenders and are left with Liam McLeod and Andy Gilker. He says it’s a “wait and see situation,” with Adam Beukeboom still being at the Prince George Cougars camp.

Beukeboom’s playing rights were acquired by the Storm on Aug. 15 from the Drumheller Dragons, in exchange for the playing rights of captain Sasha Larocque, who is expected to play in the United States Hockey League this season.

Higo adds that the team is expected to gain players in the next few days who have been released from Western Hockey League camps. He says some could potentially suit up in Thursday’s game.

Early Wednesday afternoon, the Storm also acquired the playing rights of Ben Assad, from the Brooks Bandits. The 18 year-old forward, of Calgary, had three goals and three assists with the Bandits last season. Higo says he expected Assad to be in Grande Prairie Thursday.

The Wolverines have already played three exhibition games and are 1-2, with both losses coming courtesy of the Drayton Valley Thunder.

“It’s another step in the evaluation process and the preparation process. It’s an opportunity for some of the veterans to get into the line-up and show what they can do and for some younger guys that need to come in and play well for their status with them team,” said Higo, of Thursday’s game.

Game time Thursday is 7:30 p.m. at Revolution Place.

The Storm will then embark on a two-game road trip to High Level on Friday and Saturday to close out their exhibition schedule against the Drayton Valley Thunder.