As they say in golf, there's no room for pictures on the scorecard. It wasn't an overly pretty win for the Grande Prairie Storm Friday night at the Canada Games Arena, but the end result was huge.
Storm holding off the Sherwood Park Crusaders 4-2 in front of 1856 fans…and in doing so, clinched second place in the AJHL North Division standings. That guarantees home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs for Grande Prairie. It also means the Crusaders are certain to be the Storm's dance partner in the opening round best of five playoff series.
Nick Kulmanovsky was the first star of the evening and deservedly so. Kulmanovsky, who's been in net for every one of the club's five straight wins, stopped three breakaways on the night and frustrated the Crusaders on several other excellent scoring chances as well. Coach Blaine Bablitz had high praise for his netminder.
“Nick's been great during our winning streak. All season long, he's been a major reason for our success. He's as good of a goalie as I've seen in all my time in this league.”
Gus Correale, Dylan Thudium and Ryan Matthews all scored in the second period to stake the Storm out to a 3-0 lead through forty minutes. The Crusaders, however, struck for a pair of goals midway through the third to make things interesting. Brett Printz would ice the game for the home side, as he found the empty net with just over a minute left in regulation time.
For the fourth straight game, Storm penalty killers did not allow a powerplay goal against, as the Crusaders went 0-for-5 with the man advantage. Bablitz says that with the line-up being depleted with injuries lately, penalty killing becomes all the more important.
“Our PK unit is extremely focused right now—to the point where it's almost a blessing when we have to kill one off. Guys like Thudium and Jade McMullen are stepping up their game to fill in for some of our injured players, while Drew Nikirk was great in blocking shots on the back end for us.”
The Storm powerplay, meantime, was able to click on one of six opportunities it had on the evening. Overall, though, the Crusaders carried the play a great deal of the game, outshooting Grande Prairie 29-20 on the evening.
Although the Storm will finish second and Sherwood Park seventh, the two sides played each other very close this year. They split their six games against each other, with both winning just once in three tries in the other's barn.
Game one and two of their best of five will go Tuesday and Wednesday at the Canada Games Arena. Game three and, if necessary, four go back in Sherwood Park on Friday and Saturday. Should a deciding game need to be played, it'll happen Monday, March 11th in Grande Prairie.
Before then, of course, the Storm still have one more game to close out the regular season. That's Saturday night, as the Drayton Valley Thunder come calling. Gametime is 7:30.
– Story by Don Whiteford of www.PeaceCountrySports.com.