By GORDON ANDERSON
There will be junior A hockey royalty, of sorts, here this weekend.
The Grande Prairie Storm will close out Alberta Junior Hockey League action for the month of January with a two-game homestand this weekend at Revolution Place.
The Okotoks Oilers are here Friday night, followed by the Olds Grizzlys 24-hours later. Both games are set for 7:30 p.m. puck drop. What’s not to like about this Oilers (37-6-2) club? They possess the best record in the AJHL and have a laundry list of accolades following them from town to town.
The club is riding a nine-game winning streak, they have the best goal differential in the league at +100, they are the No. 2 ranked team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s recent Top-20 rankings and have three players who will be in the CJHL Prospects game later this month in Mississauga, Ont.
”They’re the prototypical team that wins at the recruiting game,” Storm head coach Matt Keillor said. “They work hard at recruiting and they’ve done a fantastic job. They have four lines of guys that can play. They have a lot of depth. I know how good and how dangerous they are.”
The Oilers have 19 players, nine of them rookies, who have at least 10 points. They have scored 200 goals this year, 30 more than the Storm (22-20-3), who have three guys in the top five in AJHL scoring and five guys in the top-15. The Oilers have one player in the top-15 in AJHL scoring.
“When we don’t have the puck we have to play with structure,” Keillor said . “We have to do a better job of it. It has to be a clean game, you can’t make mistakes and hand goals to (the Oilers).”
Case in point: Keillor pointed to Tuesday night’s 6-5 overtime win over the Drayton Valley Thunder as proof of where he’s coming from.
The club took a 2-0 lead over the worst team, record-wise, in the north and had to scratch and claw for a win.
“We end up going into Drayton Valley and we end up in a (high-scoring) game,” Keillor said. “That’s not good enough. Yeah, we won, but it was a pretty quiet bus ride home. That wasn’t the way we planned for the outcome of that game.”
During the year every club, with designs of AJHL King of the Mountain status, will get an opponent trying to show you who’s the real boss. This is such an opponent.
“It’s a great measuring stick to see how we stack up to one of the top teams in province, and arguably in the country,” Keillor said.
The Olds Grizzlys (15-29-2) finished up a brief, two-game homestand for the Storm on Saturday.
The Grizzlys are last in the AJHL South division and are eight points out of the seventh and final playoffs spot in the south going into AJHL action on Friday night. They have a -80 goal differential.
The second year head coach hope this game isn’t the fall after the rise the Oilers will surely bring. His club can’t afford to throw away points. Besides, he’s been in the shoes of the Olds-based team and he knows what they’re thinking.
“We can’t take them lightly, for sure,” Keillor said. “Every game for them is a playoff game. I know exactly what it feels like because that was us last year. Every single game after Christmas was a must win. They’ll be ready.”