By LOGAN CLOW
The odds were already stacked against the Grande Prairie Storm, even before their first-round playoff opponent was determined.
Thursday, the Grande Prairie Storm open a best-of-five playoff series against the Whitecourt Wolverines.
Statistically speaking, the Wolverines have the advantage in every category. And although they may be the favourites to win the series, anything is possible.
in 2012-2013 – the Storm’s last playoff berth – the team was upset in the first round in four games against the Sherwood Park Crusaders. In that series, the Storm were ranked No. 2 and Crusaders were ranked No. 7.
“I told (the players) that there’s probably a shed full of movies in Hollywood that’s come from behind stories…those feel good stories. It happens all the time at every level,” said Storm head coach and GM Matt Keillor, following the team’s final practice on Wednesday afternoon.
“We have nothing to lose. Yeah, every statistical category has us behind, but the good news, again, it’s that mentality of ‘this is the opportunity (to defy the odds)’.
“The kids seem pretty excited. If they buy into that (mentality), we’re hoping it can equate to some success.”
Game two of the series is in Whitecourt again Friday.
Sunday, game three shifts back to Revolution Place at 7:30 p.m. If necessary, the Storm will host game four March 13 at 7:30 p.m.
In regular season play, the Storm struggled against the Wolverines finishing with one win in six meetings. The Wolverines – the second-highest scoring team in the AJHL – outscored the Storm a combined 31-13 in the season series.
Shutting down the Wolverines’ offence is going to be key for the Storm.
Wolverines forward Mitch Lipon finished the regular season on a 10-game point streak with eight goals and 14 assists. He finished seventh in AJHL regular season scoring, followed by teammate Justin Young. Goaltender Pierce Diamond was also brilliant in net finishing the regular season with a brilliant 27-6-4 record and 2.24 GAA.
“We’re not going win games if we allow four or five goals every game. The other thing we talked about is this is a new season. Right now, we look at their team and they don’t have a leading scorer. Everyone’s got zero (points) until (game one), so it’s a fresh start,” said Keillor.
Playing disciplined hockey, he added, is also key as the Wolverines have the No. 1 ranked powerplay in the AJHL overall and on home ice.
The Storm are in the middle of the pack when it comes to their penalty kill, which is operating at a 81.90% success rate. Their road powerplay is ranked last operating at under 9%.
“We’ve been pretty good on the PK this year, especially in the last 10 games of the year. It’s an identity of ours. We’re shot blockers and kind of a hard working, energy team…,” noted Keillor.
“Again, it’s a matter of buy-in and I think the guys are doing it right now.”
First round playoff woes have hampered the Storm.
In 2011-2012, the Storm were swept in three games against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
A year before that, the Storm, seeded No. 4, lost in five games to the No. 5 Lloydminster Bobcats.The Storm advanced to round two in 2009-2010 after defeating the Bobcats in four games. In round two, they were ousted by the MOB in five games.