It may not go down as the prettiest win of the year, but for the Grande Prairie Storm it was quite likely the biggest one of the season. In a game in which they looked on their way to a loss, the Storm pulled out a 5-4 overtime win over Fort McMurray Sunday night in front of 1779 fans at the Canada Games Arena.
The Oil Barons had rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead into the final two minutes of play. With a face-off deep in the offensive zone and 1:31 remaining in the game, Storm coach Blaine Bablitz called a time-out to strategize with his troops and pull goalie Nick Kulmanovsky in favour of an extra attacker. The plan worked, as Mike Forsyth won the draw cleanly to Ryan Matthews, who blasted home the tying goal, just two seconds later.
It was then Matthews turn in overtime to be the hero, finding wide open defenceman Scott Milnthorp with a cross-ice pass. Milnthorp made no mistake in burying the puck into the Oil Barons net, giving the Storm a vital two points in the tight AJHL North Division standings. Coach Bablitz was happy to see Matthews come to life when his club needed him most.
“Ryan had a fairly quiet first 58 minutes of the game. The tying goal was huge, though, and seemed to give him a spark. He was flying in the overtime and made a nice play to set up Milnthorp's winner.”
Besides assisting on Matthews tying goal, captain Forsyth also had two himself, while Adam Boytinck also scored, in helping the Storm build up a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. Rather than wilt, though, the Oil Barons—who were playing their third game in three nights—took it to the home side to draw within one goal by the end of the second. A pair of powerplay goals early in the third gave Fort McMurray its first lead of the game, which held until the final minutes of the period.
Overall, the Oil Barons were 2-for-5 with the man advantage. The Storm converted on a powerplay early in the first, but were never given another manpower advantage the rest of the way, on a night where the men in the stripes could definitely not be accused of being homers.
One negative on the night was the loss of another key forward. Jordan McTaggart left with a possible concussion in the first period and didn't return. Coach Bablitz admits it's another player his depleted front-line can hardly afford to miss for long.
“Jordan plays a bigger role on this club than the casual fan might realize. He's a key face-off man and a leader of our penalty killing unit. We have him listed as day-to-day, but it's not likely he'll be back in the line-up right away.”
The victory moves Grande Prairie two up on Whitecourt for fourth place and three ahead of fifth place Drayton Valley. It also keeps them one point behind Bonnyville and two in arrears of Fort McMurray.
Storm now get ready to entertain the Thunder on Tuesday night. In a quirk of the schedule, their final five games of the regular season are all against Drayton Valley and Sherwood Park—three versus the Thunder and two against the Crusaders.
– Story by Don Whiteford of www.PeaceCountrySports.com