Storm Season Ends

The unfortunate thing about having to play a team in the first round of the playoffs that finished 51 points ahead of you in the regular season standings is the odds of winning are pretty slim.

The fortunate thing is you get to measure yourself and see what you have to aspire to in order to have playoff success.

That is the situation the seventh place Grande Prairie Storm found themselves in when they took on second place Whitecourt Wolverines in the first round of a best-of-five Alberta Junior Hockey League quarterfinal.

Over three games -all losses including 3-2 in overtime on Friday,  6-0 in Game 1 Thursday and 6-1 at home in Game 3 Sunday – the Storm got to see a pretty good hockey club that has a legitimate shot at winning the AJHL championship this year.

The gap between the two clubs was wide this year, but there is reason for optimism in Grande Prairie.

The Storm lose only two players to age – defenceman Brenden Montgomery and forward Dolan Bjornson – and have already made some inroads on the recruiting end. Two top-end players, in fact, were at the Game 3 on Sunday checking out what the Storm have to offer.

The team is also making progress with local players. There were seven Peace Country players in the lineup on a regular basis this year and five more who played at least one game as call-ups during the season.

The fact the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 is also indication things are looking up for Storm fans.

Sunday night, for half the game, it was looking good for the Storm.

They took a 1-0 lead at 7:18 of the first on a goal by Dallas Comeau and had a great chance to make it 2-0 less than two minutes into the second when defenceman Carter Wolski rang one off the crossbar.

The Wolverines, thanks to some outstanding shot blocking by Storm defenders, didn't get their 10th shot on goal until 8:10 of the second period.

But once they scored, the first off the stick of team scoring leader Mitch Lipon at 9:44, the floodgates opened quickly.

Justin  Young, on the powerplay, made it 2-1 at 12:34 and then just 48 seconds later Morgan Messenger made it 3-1 and the Storm, who had battled so hard to defend their one-goal lead, saw the ice tilt steeply in Whitecourt's favour finishing it off with goals from Young, Liam Motley and Jaedon Leslie in the third.

Pierce Diamond got the win looking at 27 Storm shots while Xavier Burghardt in the GP net made 31 saves and faced a total of 98 shots in Games 2 and 3.

The Wolverines advance to play the Spruce Grove Saints in a best-of-seven North Division semifinal. The Saints defeated the Drayton Valley Thunder in three straight in the quarterfinals.

The first place Fort McMurray Oil Barons, who got a first round bye, will play the winner of a quarterfinal between the Bonnyville Pontiacs and Sherwood Park Crusaders. The Pontiacs lead that series 2-1.

And the Storm?

They can be proud they did something a Storm team hadn't done in four years by making the playoffs. The challenge now is to win some playoff success. Work towards that is already underway.