The Grande Prairie Storm has gone Peace Country again for its fifth
head coach/general manager in the team’s 16-year history.
For the second time since the franchise began in 1995 a Peace Country
product will be behind the reins of the Alberta Junior Hockey League
Blaine Bablitz, who was the team’s assistant coach for four seasons,
moves into the head coach/GM ranks with a wealth of experience in the
sport of hockey.
A native of Valleyview, Alberta, the 30-year-old played minor hockey
in his hometown before moving to major midget in Leduc, Alta.
Bablitz was recruited to play for the Storm by former Storm coach Cory
Clouston, who is now head coach of the Ottawa Senators.
“I’m very thankful and extremely excited about the opportunity that
the organization is offering me,” said Bablitz. “They’ve come to terms
with giving me the chance to prove myself in this position, and I look
to continue the success of the team on the ice and within the
community of Grande Prairie. Not only are we here to be a competitive
and successful team, but we’re here to be a part of the community and
do our best to affect the youth in it and be a positive influence on
everyone in the town.”
He played two seasons with the Storm – 1997-98 and 1998-99 – and was
chosen the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year his first
season – a year after Mike Comrie and a year before Dany Heatly won
the award. He was also a league all star that season. He was one of
the fastest skating forwards in the league, accumulated 156 points and
is currently sits eighth in assists with the team (100), 11th in
points (156) and 15th in goals (56).
Bablitz, who has a son, Jake, with wife Janelle, is going to continue
to build his teams in the same style he out-going head coach Mike
Vandekamp, who is headed to the Nanaimo Clippers of the British
Columbia Hockey League as head coach and general manager, were noted
“Our team will be hard working and aggressive and puck
pursuit-orientated- which is not too far away from the lines of the
team we’ve been in the past,” said Bablitz. “It will be organized and
technically sound. Hard work will be the main focus, (because) that’s
the key to junior level hockey.”
His exploits with the Storm earned him a scholarship in Alaska where
he played four seasons of NCAA Division I hockey with the Fairbanks
After graduating, he played five seasons of professional hockey in
Germany and in the East Coast Hockey League and the Central Hockey
League. He was also a playing member of the Fort St. John Flyers
Senior AAA team in 2009-2010 when they won the Alan Cup championship.
In 2007, Bablitz was hired as the first-ever fulltime assistant coach
with the Storm by head coach/general manager Mike Vandekamp.
During their four seasons together they had the best winning
percentage of any group of coaches in the team’s history. In 242
regular season games the pair had a .674 win percentage during the
regular season and also won 27 of 45 playoff games in four seasons.
They helped the Storm to the 2008-2009 AJHL championship and finished
second in the North Division three times during their coaching
“The last four years we have seen Blaine take on more and more duties
and he is biting at the bit as to say, and has earned the right to put
his brand of Storm Hockey on the ice for the organization,” said Storm
chairman Lionel Jones. “Blaine has shown tremendous leadership,
confidence, dedication and Storm loyalty and will prove to be one of
the great coaches in the AJHL over the years to come.”
Vandekamp, a Fort St. John native, leaves Grande Prairie with nothing
but good feelings about the organization.
“It’s been an absolutely terrific opportunity right from day one,” he
said. “By far, this has been the most well run, organized, most
professional organization that I’ve been a part of. A very small
amount of this has been a professional decision; it’s been a lot more
of a family decision. My wife is a southern British Columbia person
and when some of this came about, it was certainly partially driven
from home. It’s just a lot closer to her family from a geographical
Clouston was the team’s first head coach (1995-1999) followed by Kevin
McKay (1999-2000) and then Fran Gow (2000-2007) before Vandekamp
(2007-2011) and now Bablitz.