By Logan Clow, Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune
After four days of workouts, scrimmages, inter-squad games, evaluations and roster cuts, the Grande Prairie Storm embark on a two-game, exhibition road trip this weekend against the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Saturday and Lloydminster Bobcats on Sunday.
The Storm held their annual training camp on Monday to Thursday at the Coca-Cola Centre, which featured 51 players – six goalies, 14 defencemen and 26 forwards.
Speaking ahead of the team’s final inter-squad game on Thursday evening – otherwise known as the annual Brian Nash Memorial – Kevin Higo, head coach and general manager for the Storm, says he was pleased with camp’s competitiveness and players’ work ethic.
“We’ve been very happy with the effort, for sure,” said Higo.
“We told them on Monday when we met with them that it was going to be a long, gruelling week. We’re starting to see a little bit of that in the workouts, practices and games. But, for the most part, we’re happy and we’re taking small steps forward everyday.”
Before the team leaves Saturday, Higo says he will make the first cuts. He says he held off on making cuts throughout the week because he wanted to give players a chance to make an impression.
“With our game plan of taking 20 first-year guys to Sherwood Park and Lloydminster, it’s (Brian Nash Memorial game) real important for some,” he said, adding some players have left throughout the week for WHL camps.
“There’s going to be some tough decisions, especially up front with the forwards. There’s a real good group there and we only want to take 12. We figure there’s 15 or 16 guys that are in that mix.”
Recent acquisition Adam Beukeboom wasn’t at camp this week. The former Drumheller Dragon goaltender, whose playing rights were acquired in exchange for Storm captain Sasha Larocque’s rights last week, was attending the Prince George Cougars’ camp.
The goalies at this year’s camp, included: Cody Campbell (Edge Minor Midget), Patrick Kasper (Notre Dame Hounds), Andy Gilker (St. Leonard Arctic), Brandon Butler (Calgary Buffaloes), Liam McLeod (Kamloops Storm) and Grant Martens (Bloomington Jaguars).
Higo says a tough decision for the coaching staff would be to determine which of the six goalies stay. He said, that as of Wednesday evening, three of the six had made strong impressions.
The training camp featured several Storm returnees, including: Al MacPherson, Kaleb Denham, Dylan Thudium, Ian Mclellan, Braeden Jones, Landon Gross, Blake Bosch and Jade McMullen,
“I’m still tabulating my notes and still building an impression of them (returnees) and what they will bring to the table,” said Higo.
“It looks like the guys put in the work over the summer. They all seem to be excited to be here.”
Grande Peace Athletic Club alumni Colton Sandboe, Andrew Kartusch, Josh Perrott, Logan Mazzerolle, Kyle Lipinski, Jared McAmmond, Evan Tordiff, Quinn Sobus and Carter Wolski are also in the camp.
“They’ve been real good. Adam (Manah) has done a real good job with the guys that played with him last year (Midget AAA). Again, getting back to that model and bringing the identity of the Grande Prairie Storm back, the local kids have competed, have been hard to play against and they’re playing with some structure, which is a good sign,” noted Higo.
Higo added that he also hopes to have a captain named before the Sept. 5 regular season opener at Revolution Place against the Bonnyville Pontiacs.
“Ideally, we would like to have somebody named before the opening game, but will we? I’m not sure. It’s not something we’re going to rush,” he said.
The Storm will play their third exhibition game next Thursday at Revolution Place against the Whitecourt Wolverines at 7:30 p.m.
After that, the team will travel to High Level on Aug. 29-30 for their final two exhibition games, which will be against the Drayton Valley Thunder.