The month of October kicks off with a fresh set of new challenges for the local entry in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The Grande Prairie Storm will embark on a three-games-in-three-days scenario when the club kicks off a trip to southern Alberta in Okotoks, facing the Oilers on Friday night, before heading to Drumheller on Saturday night to play the Dragons, finishing up on Sunday afternoon in Canmore against the Eagles.
The club will also play three road games in three days at the end of the month, making stops in Camrose, Sherwood Park and Bonnyville.
In lieu of the busyness, it’s been a pretty light week at the rink as Storm Head Coach Matt Keillor is already managing minutes .
Normally, on a Wednesday afternoon, Revolution Place is filled with the sounds of excited hockey players but the main lights were off and the ice was fresh. There was no morning practice for the club.
“We took a practice away this week and we’ve limited some ice for guys and we have an app where we track rest ratio,” Keillor said. “If we see guys are tired, we might go out for half an hour practice and that’s it.”
Even though they’re teenagers and in good condition, this will be a physical test for the players.
“Three (games) in three days is really tough,” Keillor said. “ With the way things work we’re driving down the day of (the game). It will be an eight or nine-hour (ride) on the bus and then it’s get off the bus and play the game. We have to manage as best we can, even with eating habits and hydration.”
Keillor will look to get his guys 13-15 minutes a night, and that includes special teams minutes.
Keepers of the cage
Goaltending has been a strong point for the club heading into October.
Grande Prairie resident Lars Kaliel is 2-2-0 with a 1.89 goals against average and a save percentage of .927.
Keillor noted the 18-year-old was a little too muscular and bulky last year and needed to lose a bit of weight. The coach thought the extra weight took away the attributes the club liked about him in midget: flexibility, agility and speed.
“This year, he came in 10-15 pounds lighter and in very good shape,” Keillor said. “He’s a lot quicker and his mind is in a better place. He’s more mature and he’s graduated high school. It’s a little less off his plate and he can focus on hockey.”
Kaeden Lane is 3-1 with a 1.72 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, to go along with two shutouts. He was also the AJHL Defensive Player of the Week for Sept. 16-22.
“The thing with him was coming in ready, focused and knowing the situation,” Keillor said. “Last year, he got thrown in to the fire right off the hop. He’s quiet, reserved and and it was better (for him to) know the situation. He was here a couple of weeks early just to get allocated. He’s back with the same billets. He knew what his job was going to be and he was more comfortable off the hop.”
Last year, the Storm had three goalies to start the season with Kaliel, Lane and Ethan Slobodzian also in the mix.
“To be honest, I’m happy with both goalies, they’ve been nothing short of fantastic from day one,” Keillor said.
The Storm will be without the services of Lukas Jirousek as the forward was suspended on Sept. 28 for two games after receiving a major penalty for a blow to the head against the Canmore Eagles at the AJHL Showcase … On Oct. 1 the Storm traded forward Bryce Osepchuk to the Olds Grizzlys for future considerations … It seems Alex Nordstrom’s brief time with the Storm is over. The Michigan resident made the opening day roster of the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League.
Eye in the Sky
When the Grande Prairie Storm faced off with the Spruce Grove Saints on Sept. 23 at Revolution Place, the club ushered in a new level of communication between the bench and the press box.
The club instituted an “Eye in the Sky” with Strength and Conditioning Coach Jordan McTaggart seated up high, connected with and relaying information to Assistant Coach Ryan Aasman via an earpiece.
“It’s something we’re definite going to use, especially at home,” Storm Head Coach Matt Keillor said. “It’s something we can take advantage of. It’s harder to do it on the road but as we get into it we can plan as we learn to use it the best way possible. We’re figuring it out. There’s so much going on that you can pick and choose what you need out of the situation but I thought it was very useful for what we were looking for. The eye in the sky only needs a couple of different tasks (to focus on), things we don’t have access to on the bench or things we can’t see. To have success we have to put focus on other things.”
McTaggart was mainly paying attention to the Saints forecheck and what they would do in faceoff scenarios. As Keillor noted, it can get quite busy during faceoff time.
“Faceoffs are integral to get possession of the puck,” Keillor said. “(A team like the Brooks Bandits) has over 10 different types of offensive zone faceoffs. You have to have a plan when you play a team like that and you lose the puck (on a draw). Sometimes certain lines will do certain faceoffs and it’s little things like that he can pick up on.”
“To have a guy (in McTaggart), who played at this level and understands the game, there’s no (excuse) not to use him for home games. I think he was a help in that way,” Aasman added.
McTaggart is also an assistant coach to Chris Schmidt with GPAC AAA midget Storm club.