Riding a six-game win streak, their longest of the season, the Spruce Grove Saints found that their legs, and their luck, weren’t with them in the search for number seven.
Following two strong wins, 4-2 over Bonnyville and then 6-2 over Olds, the Saints strug-gled against the Grande Prairie Storm who upended them 5-1 to snap the win streak. The loss, said bench boss Bram Stephen, was in his opinion due to a few things including meeting the Storm for the third time in the space of a week. The Saints won the first two games, in Grande Prairie.
“I think the trend more is, for whatever reason, the third game in four nights all year long if you look at the schedule, we haven’t been very good,” he began. “That’s more the issue at hand and we’ve got to figure out a way to train for that, prepare for that. The way we play the game takes a lot of physical energy, mental energy and we need to build some more endurance, one way or another.”
As for playing the Storm so often, Stephen was in agreement that does have a downside during the regular season.
“As an athlete, and I know as a coaching staff, once you leave an opponent and play two others, then come back to them, yeah, it’s fresh in your memory but it isn’t like a playoff series, that’s for sure. What feels more like a series is three games in four nights. That’s the way the AJHL sets it up and you’ve got to push through that.”
The Storm weren’t about to be pushed around for the third straight game by the Saints, as they came out banging and scoring. They also limited the Saints offence to just five shots in the opening frame and while they picked that pace up a bit later on, they couldn’t solve the riddle Charles Olivier-Levesque threw at them in goal. He blocked 38 shots but also had a lot of bounces go his way during close-in action.
About the odds perhaps catching up with his team in that regard and not having any puck luck, including a goal that was waved off, Stephen said that’s the way the world of sports sometimes goes.
“It’s the law of averages. It’s geometry and it’s physics and it’s math and stats and some-times you get the bounces and sometimes you don’t.”
As for a first period disallowed goal, where the light went on but the referee denied it which perhaps caused a bit of a letdown for the Saints as it would have tied the game 1-1, forward Parker Saretsky said too that those are the breaks.
“I didn’t see it but the ref said it hit the post and then the back of the goalie. But, you know, it was a letdown but we’ve got to flip the page and focus on the next shift and I don’t think we did the best job of that tonight.”
As for the two wins that had pushed his team into solo first place in the North Division, Stephen said, “I thought we were really good in Bonnyville. In fact, both teams played really well. The same thing happened last time we were there and we ended up on the wrong side of it.
“Against Olds, we didn’t start very well but the next two periods were pretty solid. What I like about our team is we push the pace and even if we don’t get rewarded early in the game we’re still pushing the pace. We’re executing when we’re pushing the pace. Their (Olds) pace was dropping off; they couldn’t keep up.”
Stephen continued, “Tonight was actually the opposite,” in jumping back to the loss. “We played a team that played way faster than us. Whether it was preparation as a team or a couple of other things, not getting the bounces or the saves. We just ended up on the wrong side of it. It’s not life or death and we’ll just try to learn from it and move on.”
From the players’ perspective, Saretsky agreed it is tough matching up against a team so often because familiarity breeds contempt.
“For sure. But, it kind of foreshadows playoffs and that might be a team we run into and we need to be able to give a solid effort night in and night out.”
The strangeness of this year’s schedule continues this weekend, as the Saints and the Storm hook up yet again, for the next to last meeting of the season. To ready themselves for that game, Saretsky said a week of good practice would have them in the right frame of mind.
“I think the biggest thing with them is we need to get more traffic in front of their goalie, find a way to get that first one and then hopefully more will come from there.”
The Saints look to get back into the win column on Friday (Jan. 12) night at home against the Canmore Eagles and then host the Storm on Saturday. Both games face off at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
*PHOTOS BY DAVE ROSS
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