The Grande Prairie Storm’s playoff hopes are on thin ice.
On Feb.6-7, the Storm extended their losing streak to five games following a 6-3 loss to the Whitecourt Wolverines and then a 5-2 loss to the Drayton Valley Thunder.
“Obviously tough to take. I think everyone knew how important this weekend was,” said Storm coach/GM Matt Hughes.
“The game in Whitecourt was 3-3 with six minutes left in the third period and then they got a few powerplay opportunities and put us away there and then in Drayton last night, up 2-1 in the second period, they dumped one in and it took a funny bounce off of the boards and bounced into the slot after Nick (Kulmanovksy) went out to play it and they got an empty netter. We couldn’t find a way to create more offence in that one.”
In Whitecourt, Storm captain Sasha Larocque returned from injury and scored a pair of goals. Forward Stephen Doane also notched his ninth goal of the season .
Goaltender Nick Kulmanovksy took the loss, turning aside 41 shots.
Against the Thunder, defenceman Dalton Olsen and Grande Prairie native Jordan McTaggart each scored. Kulmanovsky recorded his league-leading 30th loss between the pipes making 33 saves.
Hughes praised Kulmanovksy’s performance and says there were some positives he took from the road trip.
“I thought our compete level was real good. We battled for pucks, I thought some of our young guys showed real well. The McTaggart-(Ryan) Baskerville- (Tyson) McCallum line was strong for us up front. It was nice to see Sasha (Larocque) get back in the line-up, obviously he was real strong for us,” explained Hughes.
“We have to get prepared for the next one (game), its all you can do. You got to look forward to the next day, look forward to the next practice and go out and get as prepared as possible to try and find some success next weekend against Fort McMurray.”
The Storm are on the outside looking in, in terms of qualifying for the post-season.
During the five-game skid, the Storm, the third lowest scoring team in the league, have been outscored 22-6; they also lead in goals against with 203.
With an 18-36 record, the Storm are last place in their division and are five points out of a playoff spot, behind the Thunder, who have three games in hand.
The top seven teams in each division will qualify for the 2014 AJHL Gas Drive Playoffs.
The first place team in each division will receive a bye during the best-of-five first round playoffs.
If the Storm can secure the final playoff spot, they would play either the Fort McMurray Oil Barons or Spruce Grove Saints in round one.
Hughes says the squad’s remaining six games – three at home and three on the road – are all must-win games.
“We need to win all of our last six games,” said Hughes.
“There’s no panic button, it’s just a reality of the situation. It’s been a tough stretch since Christmas (two wins, 12 losses). We’re a team that’s averaging less than two goals per game for right now and in junior A hockey, you’re not going to win too many games when you can’t score more than two on a consistent basis.”
Their remaining games are no stroll in the park either.
The Storm play host to the Oil Barons for a two-game homestand at the Games Arena on Feb. 14-15; the Oil Barons have won all four meetings this season.
Following that, the Storm embark on a three-game road swing against the Sherwood Park Crusaders, Lloydminster Bobcats and Bonnyville Pontiacs.
Their last regular season game is on March 1 at the CGA against the Crusaders.
“We got to have pride in the way we play the game. This is what we do, we have to go out there and play hockey and find a way to pick up some points in these last few games and get our game back, but as far as dwelling on things and what not, I don’t see that as a solution. We have to find a way to make something happen,” explained Hughes.
He says the Storm are hopeful to have forward Jade McMullen return from a concussion by the weekend.
Defenceman Kaleb Denham is probable with an upper-body injury and both Allan MacPherson and Nathyn Mortlock are still out indefinitely.
Game time on Feb. 14-15 is 7:30 p.m.