Storm Stretch Lead Over Thunder

For a good part of the 2016-2017 hockey season the Grande Prairie Storm managed to find a way to lose rather than win.

It perplexed the coaching staff, which used the phrase “getting over the hump.”

Humps are flattened when players gain some confidence in themselves and their teammates.

It usually starts when a team finds a way to win instead of losing.  

The Storm found a way to win twice on the weekend against the team chasing them for sixth place in the North Division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

The Storm downed the Thunder 6-2 Sunday following up on a 3-2 win Saturday for their first two-game win streak on the road this season.

Those wins has the potential to help the team get over that hump and inject some swagger into a club that went an entire month (November) without a win.

The Storm now lead the Thunder, who have two games in hand, by five points. GP has 25 while the Thunder has 20 and the last-place Lloydminster Bobcats, who have five games in hand on the Storm, are sitting at 18.

With fifth place pretty much out of reach – the Sherwood Park Crusaders are 14 up on the Storm – the battle for the last playoff spots will be between the Storm, Thunder and Bobcats.

Like they did Saturday when they led 3-0 in the first, the Storm came out quickly again Sunday when Michael Clarke scored just 35 seconds into the game. Evan Rochowiak, who has points in eight of 12 games since being acquired from the Drumheller Dragons, made it 2-0 on the powerplay at 6:13.

But, as they did Saturday, they allowed the Thunder back into things when Rhett Wilcox scored at  9:10 of the opening frame.

But, unlike past performances when they coughed up leads and allowed the opposition to tie things up, the Storm stretched their lead in the second.

Parker Smyth, with his third in a Storm uniform, made it 3-1 at 9:18 and then team scoring leader Clarke (who has 19 goals and 20 assists in 39 games) made it 4-1 just 33 seconds later.

“It was great to see the team pull through some adversity after giving up another late goal in the first,” said Storm head coach/general manager Matt Keillor. “Clarke had a great performance and seemed to have the puck on his stick all game.”

The Thunder saw some light at the end of the tunnel when Matt Benko scored at 11:22 of the second to make it 4-2.

“They came out hard to start the second and we were opportunistic when we had our chances,” said Keillor, who watched his team get out-shot14-7 in the middle frame.

That light in the tunnel turned out to be a Storm train in the third. The Storm outshot the Thunder 17-11 and got the only goals.

Dallas Comeau scored on the powerplay at 5:50 of the third and Rochowiak's second of the day at 17:20 salted it away for the Storm giving them their 10th win of the season.

The Storm scored on half of their four powerplay chances and were perfect on two penalty kills.

“Our defence played down a man due to injury and really stepped up on both sides of the puck,” said Keillor of his blueliners.

Keillor, who has three wins in five games since taking over the reins of the team, liked the feel of things against the Thunder.

“Again it was another playoff atmosphere with some big hits, a fight and some missing teeth,” said Keillor.

The Storm ended up outshooting the Thunder 38-37. Xavier Burghardt was in net for the Storm and Parker Tobin tended the cage for the Thunder.

The Storm now take a break for Christmas before ending the 2016 portion of the schedule with a game at home against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Dec. 30.

“This will be good for us to get a break now and recover and reset for the second half,” said Keillor.

Two wins made their Christmas a lot merrier.