By GORDON ANDERSON
It’s time to find another gear, another level to play at.
The Grande Prairie Storm open up the first round of the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs with a best-of-five series against the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
Game one is set for Wednesday night at Revolution Place while game two is slated for Thursday night at Revolution Place. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on both nights.
“We’re looking forward to (the series) and our energy (levels are) really high right now,” said Storm forward Connor Blake. “Dying our hair and doing some team activities has really got us going. We’re really excited to start playoffs at home, and with the home-ice advantage, we’re looking forward to making the best of the opportunity.”
Blake’s dye job didn’t quite make it to the typical dirty, messy blonde mop most guys shoot for in the playoffs. His ended up in a some shade of platinum.
“As far as the way both teams are built, and the way we both match up against each other, you have two very similar teams,” Storm head coach Matt Keillor. “They play a similar run-and-gun style and they have no problem scoring goals. I think we match up very well.
“I expect it to be a physical series, fast-paced with some exciting hockey for sure.”
And the numbers totally reaffirm Keillor’s point. Based on the regular-season statistics, it’s like looking in the mirror for both teams. The numbers are eerily similar.
The season series ended up in a 3-3 tie. Both teams went undefeated at home and winless on the road. The Crusaders outscored the Storm 26-25 in those six games.
As per usual the checking gets tighter in the postseason and there seems to be a lot less time to operate with the puck.
Is it too much to hope the paying public get a series that continues on the regular-season trend?
Keillor stated a few weeks ago his team was going to play to its strengths and be more aggressive in the offensive zone, within reason, of course, but the Crusaders were -32 in goals for versus goals against this season.
“They don’t like to play defence and that’s no different than us,” Keillor said. “We want to make sure we’re aggressive, we’re on the puck, we want to play in their zone as much as possible and take the ability for their forwards to have the puck on their stick.”
In other words, take a wait and see approach.
While very few people are in the prediction game Blake likes where his club is at the moment.
“All season it’s been tight (games) with them but if we stick to the gameplan I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” Blake said. “We have the skill and, along with some hard work, it should take care of itself.”
Storm rookie Noah Walters and netminder Charles-Olivier Levesque are game-time decisions. Walters has been out since Jan. 20, after taking a wicked hit from behind in a game against the Lloydminster Bobcats. Cruz Cote and Christopher Lanouette are also ready to go. Keillor was asked when was the last time he had a regular lineup? “I don’t remember,” Keillor said with a laugh … Justin Bernier finished third in league scoring with 31 goals and 47 assists, good enough for 78 points … For players who played a minimum 50 games this season, Edouard Michaud finished second in points-per-game average at 1. 4 … Due to unforeseen circumstances the Storm will be unable to proceed any further with their Ultimate Playoff 50/50 Raffle. Refunds are available. Contact Stephanie Carter at (780) 533-2205 for more details or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide ticket at time of refund.