Two long standing Northern Alberta rivals will go head-to-head this weekend at Revolution Place.
The Grande Prairie Storm will play host to the undefeated Fort McMurray Oil Barons – one of the top ranked junior A hockey teams in the country – Friday and Saturday.
This games will also feature Kevin Higo, head coach and GM with the Storm, facing his former team, which now has Curtis Hunt – a former assistant coach with Team Canada at the 2007 and 2008 World Under-20 Hockey Championships, assistant coach on the Canadian Paralympic Sledge Hockey team that won a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators, of the National Hockey League – at the helm.
“We’ve just been focusing on ourselves here,” said Higo, who was an assistant coach with the MOB when they won the Royal Bank Cup in 2000. After that, he took over as head coach and GM until 2003.
“We’ve been working on all three areas of the ice (offensive, neutral and defensive zone) and the small details of the game are some of the things we’ve really tried to focus on over the last four days (of practice).”
Higo says some of the details have been working on getting into the shooting and passing lanes, getting more traffic to the net and faceoffs.
A highlight this week, he says, is that the Storm spent some time at VO2 Max for off-ice conditioning.
“We spent time being stronger on our sticks. We’re really expecting guys to move pucks hard and we’re expecting them to be ready for pucks. I think too many times (against Bonnyville) we had pucks creep over and under our sticks,” said Higo, adding that practices have been split this week, with a focus on defensive plays and offensive plays.
“We’ve spent a good 45 minutes just focusing on our defencemen and getting pucks to the net, their breakouts and defenceman to defenceman. Then our forwards would go for 45 minutes. We’ve been working on getting pucks to the net and being more available in the offensive zone – just generating more offence.”
Higo says the team also spent a great deal of time on faceoffs. He says players were battling and as a result, there were a few chipped teeth and blood.
The Oil Barons are 3-0 to start the season and coming off a 2-1 win against the Lloydminster Bobcats Wednesday. The game was the first time former MOB bench boss Gord Thibodeau faced his former team.
Jetlan Houcher, a 20-year-old Paradise Valley native, leads the MOB with three goals.
Thursday, the Oil Barons announced they added Trent Lofthouse (Surrey, BC) to the roster. Lofthouse joins the MOB after three years in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, Victoria Royals, and most recently, the Vancouver Giants.
“We’re anticipating a real good team coming in here. I mean, when you’re ranked number one, you’re ranked number one for a reason. It should be a good team. There’s a lot of returning guys and we’re going to do our best to give them a battle,” said Higo.
Higo says the team only made two deals this week, which included sending defenceman Kaleb Denham to the Neepawa Natives, of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and forward Rory Court to the Miramichi Timberwolves, of the Maritime Hockey League. He says other deals and roster cuts have not been made due to various injuries.
The team did receive positive news Wednesday, as goaltender Adam Beukeboom, whose playing rights were acquired from the Drumheller Dragons, in exchange for Storm captain Sasha Larocque in August, joined the squad for practice, after spending time with the Prince George Cougars, of the Western Hockey League.
“The presence that he has brought to the ice surface was evident right way. It was a real bright spot for us,” said Higo.
Higo says the team’s captaincy has yet to be filled, noting “it will run its course.”
He says a starting goalie for Friday’s game will be named Friday morning.
Game time Friday and Saturday is 7:30 p.m.
Story by Logan Clow, Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune