The Spruce Grove Saints proved that over the past weekend, as they gave up the first goal in both of their games yet came back strongly to win 3-2 over the Camrose Eagles and then 6-2 over the Grande Prairie Storm.
In their third of six straight home games this month, the Saints came out rather slowly and looked anything but a team tied for the lead in the North Division of the AJHL.
“I think that was a couple of different line combinations and those took a little bit of time to mesh, I’d say,” said Bram Stephen, the Saints head coach. “We worked on some things, added some things as far as structure during the week. When you have that many days of practice and we lost our pace a little bit in practice to teach a little more. Yeah, I think our pace was a little slow (to start) and that was probably because of some of the stuff we were doing through the week. But once we felt a bit of rhythm and felt some of the adjustments and change in game, it got a lot better later on.”
With his team leading 3-1 going into the third, a spread many consider the worst lead in hockey, Stephen credited the Eagles with a fine game plan and gave them credit for hanging with his club who led the Eagles by 25 points in the overall standings entering the game.
“They were real heavy on the forecheck, their pace was good and their goaltender was real strong tonight and their special teams were good. That presents a challenge,” he noted. Canmore scored the only goal of the final 20 minutes to give themselves a chance of coming from behind, which didn’t happen.
At the same time, Stephen continued by saying his team did what they worked on over their week away from game action.
“I certainly liked our pace and some of the things we tried to clean up defensively. I thought the score wasn’t totally indicative of the play, certainly,” as the Saints outshot the visitors 41-12.
The newest addition to the Saints, Chase Olsen, scored his first goal for the Halos in his first outing, tying the game 1-1. He said later that it was exciting to come to a team battling for a division title and to play alongside one of the league’s top scorers, Chris Van Os-Shaw, who set him up for that goal.
Of that marker, Olsen said it’s always nice to score but especially to do so in your first appearance in a new jersey.
“Yeah, exactly. Coming in here I knew what the team wanted from me. A good strong defensive player but someone who can put up points, too. That one right off the bat certainly helped and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Olsen said it was nice for him not to have too much time to think about the trade from Olds.
“There’s no thought going into it. We played the next day so there’s no time to analyze anything. You just go. It’s nice to come to a team where guys support you all over the ice and push the pace for you. I’m just excited to come in and play with these guys and have a chance to win a championship.”
And oh yeah — it doesn’t hurt playing alongside Van Os-Shaw, who also had a goal in the win, either. TJ Lloyd netted the game-winner.
“We clicked well off the ice and that helps on the ice,” Olsen said of his billet mate, Van Os-Shaw. “Having an elite player to play with is never a bad thing,” and that showed the next night in the game against Grande Prairie, where the pair combined for eight points.
Stephen, in speaking to that second game in a week against the club that had put the brakes on their six-game win streak, simply said, “Yes,” when asked if his guys were out for revenge against the Storm.
“I think we need to do a few things differently on special teams and I think playing so much right after Christmas we got into some bad habits. We need to emphasize other parts of our game more and hopefully those things throughout the week will serve us (in this game) and beyond that.”
Other than giving up the first goal, the Saints dominated the Storm, outshooting them 36-13. Goal scorers were Van Os-Shaw, Damon Zimmer, Parker Saretsky, Josh Harris, Brett Trentham and Graeme Bryks. Olsen chipped in with four assists while Van Os-Shaw had three helpers. Hayden Missler had both wins in goal.
The Saints are at home for the final two games of this lengthy homestead when they host Bonnyville on Wednesday, Jan. 17, and Drayton Valley two nights later at the Grant Fuhr Arena. Both games start at 7 p.m.
*PHOTO BY DAVE ROSS
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