There’s something to be said about strong finishes but the case in point this past weekend for the Spruce Grove Saints was more about their slow starts.
That may sound strange as the Saints came away with two big wins on home ice — 5-1 over the Calgary Mustangs and 7-0 over the Calgary Canucks — but truth be told, bench boss Bram Stephen was anything but totally impressed. Oh, he’s not giving back the points and he liked the finish in both games. It was the starts in both he could have done without.
In the Mustangs game, the Saints gave up three first-period breakaways, allowing one goalin falling behind early before skating away from them. Against the Canucks, it was a sloppy game for two periods with the Saints being held in by rookie goalie Hayden Missler who was making his first-ever AJHL start. Leading 1-0 after 40 minutes, the home side exploded for six goals in the final period for the eventual lopsided win.
“It could have been a little bit of conditioning. The week off for us was nice so there’s no reason not to have energy,” Stephen said after the second game in regard to his team pulling away late from both of their Calgary foes. “To be honest, I thought we were not very good for 40 minutes tonight and I don’t think our forwards can really assess their game in a positive light either. Our guys came to play in the third.”
Stephen was blunt and not about to let his skaters off the hook when asked about his team perhaps having trouble breaking through the Canucks’ defensive scheme as they knocked down a lot of Saints shots and continually clogged up the ice.
“It was more us just being absolutely awful. We didn’t manage pucks well, didn’t have the intensity level in battles. Those were maybe the worst two periods we’ve had in a while.”
That aside, the Saints did pick up a valuable four points and while it did take them a while to get their motors revving, they blew past each team when they got going. That was evidenced by scoring 12 straight goals against the two clubs. Their power play was also clicking, scoring against the Mustangs in their only man-advantage and adding three more in five tries the next night.
“Our team is gifted with a bunch of shooters and when a team’s going to play passive like that … I don’t get it,” Stephen said of the Canucks. “They just shot pucks tonight … I didn’t think we were all that great to tell you the truth.”
Switching to a happier topic, Stephen spoke highly of Missler’s play. The coach said the junior B call-up from Wainwright had earned a shot at starting a game for the Saints after beating out a goalie brought in from B.C. to possibly replace the injured Nolan Kent. In the Canucks game, Missler showed why he got the nod.
“Hayden was really good in camp and is a ’99 (birth year) but still in high school and we didn’t think it was really fair to keep drawing out the competition because of that. He’s very athletic and covers the lower part of the net very well. He’s a heck of a young man and we’re fortunate enough to have him on our AP list. He was really good tonight.”
Missler noted that likely his best stop of the night was the first one, not because it was the toughest save but because that set him up for the rest of the evening.
“Every since I was young, my goalie coach always said the first one was the hardest and once you get that out of the way, the rest of them take care of themselves. From there on, every save is routine,” he said.
He also credited a solid defensive game by the guys in front of him in posting the zero.
“Our D did a good job keeping pucks to the outside so I didn’t really have anything too tough,” he understated.
As to the endurance the Saints showed in pulling away from the two Calgary squads, out-shooting the Mustangs 29-14 over the final 40 minutes and the Canucks 33-21 over the same time frame, forward Nick Leyer who had one goal in each game, said it’s something the entire team takes seriously.
“We have good speed throughout our whole lineup. We shouldn’t save it for the third period; we can do it all game but the fact we came out in the third and blew them out was great.”
“Rolling four lines is a good way of putting it,” he continued, “and all of them can put the puck in the net and contribute to the team. It’s always good when you have that but like I said, we shouldn’t wait until the third period.”
Scoring against the Mustangs were Jarrod Gourley, Jamieson Ree, Dylan Bourlai, Chris Van Os-Shaw and Leyer. Parker Tobin picked up the win in goal.
Against the Canucks, Van Os-Shaw led the way with three goals while singles came from Liam Freeborn, Leyer, Gourley and Garan Magnus.
The Saints are back in action at home on Thursday when the host the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
*Photo Credit- Chuck Taylor
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