Grande Prairie Storm split two-game series vs. Pontiacs, raise more than $90,000 at auction

Grande Prairie Storm defenders Cade Mason (left) and Juliano Santalucia (right) in Alberta Junior Hockey League action at Revolution Place on Saturday night. The Pontiacs scored two first-period goals in a 3-0 win over the home side. The Storm sweater auction raised more than $90,000 on Thursday night. Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald-Tribune

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The Grande Prairie Storm dropped the second half of a back-to-back, losing 3-0 to the Bonnyville Pontiacs in Alberta Junior Hockey League action at Revolution Place on Saturday night.

Storm captain Dan McIntyre opined the visitors were more desperate for the win, oftentimes first to the race for pucks, and battles for loose pucks, in all three zones.

“We need to play the game harder, as I think they beat us to the puck (and) they worked harder than us,” McIntyre said. “Obviously, we have to spend more time in the offensive zone, (as) we were playing on our heels a lot.”

On goals by Kash Rasmussen and Jaden York, the Pontiacs led 2-0 after one period of play and solidified the lead on a goal Masters winner Dustin Johnson would have been proud of—a chip-shot by Matthew McKim that fluttered over the right shoulder of Storm goaltender Garin Bjorklund at the 4:02 of the third-period.

Otherwise, Bjorklund, a 2020 sixth-round pick of the Washington Capitals came as advertised, excellent in the cage, giving his team a chance to plot a comeback. The Grande Prairie resident was voted the second star of the game, stopping 36 shots.

Back-to-back blues

The Storm ran into the same issue on Saturday as they did on two occasions against the Whitecourt Wolverines during the pre-season, winning the opener before dropping the Saturday night follow up.

The Storm opened the AJHL season with a 5-1 win on Friday night.

The Pontiacs peppered Bjorklund with 28 shots through 40 minutes—15 shots in the first period—while the Storm managed six shots on Easton Hesse in the first and nine in the second. Hesse was significantly busier in the third period stopping 13 shots, earning third-star nomination.

“We have to be ready for the start of the game,” McIntyre said. “Every team has been jumping on us this year. It’s part of the preparation that needs to be dealt with. We’ll do that and come back better next weekend.”

The second-game performance was significant enough for head coach Mike Vandekamp to mention it back in October, assistant Sam Waterfield, perhaps, feeling the same on Saturday, his team second best for two periods anyway.

“You see it a lot when you play back-to-back and that’s the whole schedule, you see it lots where one team wins one night and the other team wins the next,” Waterfield said.

“You saw it a couple times (in the pre-season) against Whitecourt, something where you have to be ready for the (other) team to make adjustments and come out the next night and play a different style. That’s something we’re going to have to learn moving forward because we play all of our games in back-to-back situations.”

Vandekamp wasn’t behind the bench for either game this weekend, serving a two-game suspension for an incident occurring last March when he was the head coach of the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the British Columbia Hockey League.

Cue no comeback

Despite only 15 shots in the opening two periods, the Storm had a handful of nice looks, either missing the open side or watching Hesse stonewall them. Unlike on Friday night—the Storm scoring five-straight goals to erase a one-goal deficit—the Pontiacs were better throughout, a third-period rally not on the cards this night.

“Early on, we missed the net on a couple of good chances and I think, as the game went on, we generated some pretty good chances but (Hesse) settled in and was able to make some nice saves, especially down the stretch where we got in to the key scoring areas and he was able to keep the puck out,” Waterfield said.

The sweater auction

The Storm held their sweater auction on Thursday night, the club raising more than $90,000, an increase of approximately $20,000 over last year.

“(The sweater auction) went, the word is tremendous,” Storm president Murray Toews said.

“To have the community, the business community show up like it did, to not only show off (their commitment) to the hockey team in a year where there is COVID-19 and we don’t have the ability to raise a lot of money, and to buy that many sweaters, for that kind of value. (I’m) very impressed and very proud to call Grande Prairie my home.”

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