By Logan Clow-Daily Herald Tribune
The Grande Prairie Storm will ice a new-look squad on Friday and Saturday against the Camrose Kodiaks and Canmore Eagles at Revolution Arena at 7:30 p.m.
Perhaps the most notable difference will be the absence of leading scorer Jade McMullen, who was traded earlier in the week.
On Monday – the roster cut-off for junior A teams across the country to have a maximum of 25 players – Kevin Higo, head coach and general manager of the Storm, made blockbuster deal sending the 19-year-old McMullen, who had 19 goals and 13 assists, to the Olds Grizzlys, in exchange for 18-year-old defenceman Alex Brewer (four goals, 13 assists); forward Josh Zablocki, who played much of his minor hockey in Grande Prairie and has five goals and eight assists this season; 19-year-old forward Dustin Gorgi (four goals, five assists) and future considerations.
McMullen, who played in 121 regular season games (38 goals, 39 assists) with the Storm in three seasons, scored his first goal with the Grizzlys in a 6-0 win over the Drumheller Dragons on Tuesday.
“(The trade) was something that was in the works for about three weeks to a month and just through some discussions with ourselves and Jade, maybe it was time for a move,” said Higo.
“Throughout the whole situation he was real professional. He cared about what was going to happen with the Storm. I think his last statement to me was that it was important to him that the Storm did well in the trade because they have been nothing but good to him.”
Higo said McMullen attracted interest from junior A teams in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. He said McMullen wanted to stay in Alberta and go somewhere where he had a chance to win and where he felt comfortable.
He said there were three teams in AJHL who were very interested. He said Olds’ trade proposal was the one that most made sense.
Higo said Gorgi, Brewer and Zablocki all bring size, speed, grit to the team.
With the departure of McMullen, Higo said an offensive challenge presents itself for the squad, who are second-last in the AJHL with 72 goals.
“Now, what it does is it allows somebody, whether it be a younger guy or an older guy, to step up and become more of a leader,” said Higo.
“(Scoring) is going to have to be by committee.”
The team also made two other trades on Monday.
Twenty-year-old forward Hayden Berra (four goals, three assists) was sent to the Kindersley Klippers (SJHL), in exchange for 18-year-old defenceman Ty Lindberg (one goal, four assists).
Higo also sent defenceman Austen Bietenbeck to the Fort Frances Lakers (SIJHL) for futures.
Storm defenceman Martin Lavallee was also released. He was pointless in 15 games.
After goaltender Adam Beukeboom was dealt last month, the Storm kept the tandem of Liam McLeod and Logan Thompson, who was signed by the team last week.
“We Logan and Liam, we think it’s a group that can compete. They’re in the 17-year-old and 18-year-old age group we want. I think they compliment each other well,” said Higo.
“To be honest, there weren’t too many goalies available (on Monday) and it wasn’t something we were looking for. We were comfortable with what we had.”
After two road losses in Fort McMurray on Nov. 28-29, the Storm return to Revolution Arena this weekend to kick off a five-game homestand.
Friday, the Storm host the Camrose Kodiaks (24-3-2), who are riding a six-game win streak, are ranked first in the AJHL’s South Division and have the league’s top penalty kill.
Saturday, the Canmore Eagles (13-16-1) soar into town on a two-game skid and have the league’s top-ranked powerplay.
Higo said the games present a challenge for the team’s powerplay and penalty kill. The Storm are ranked 11th on the powerplay and l6th on the penalty kill.
The Storm are two points ahead of the Whitecourt Wolverines in the standings; three points back of the sixth place Drayton Valley Thunder and eight points back of the fifth place Bonnyville Pontiacs.
On Dec. 12-13, the Storm host the Whitecourt Wolverines and than host the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Dec. 16 to complete their homestand.
“We want to be in the thick of things, so if that means we can get from seventh to sixth or seventh to fifth, or if we have a good month where we tighten everything up but we’re still in seventh, we’ll be fine with that, as well,” added Higo, of the importance of their remaining eight games in 2014.