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Posted October 21st, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

Saints have 7-game win streak vs. Cru snapped on home ice

By Gord Montgomery

Every hockey coach, and player for that matter, knows that going unbeaten in a season is pretty much a no-go. However, some of the losses are tougher to take than others.

That was the case for the Spruce Grove Saints, and bench boss Bram Stephen, in their first outing of a  home-and-home series against the Sherwood Park Crusaders over the weekend. In that contest the Saints blew a 3-1 second period lead to fall 4-3, a loss that was a bitter pill for the coach to swallow.

Speaking after that game, a taciturn Stephen noted his club hadn’t done a lot right for much of the game — even in building up that two-goal cushion.

“It was stuff we weren’t doing for 60 minutes and it caught up to us at the wrong moments. We just weren’t playing smart,” he began.

By “stuff,” Stephen was referring to poor defensive coverage as well as missed offensive opportunities throughout the game.

“Coming into D-zone coverage. Tracking. Details in defensive zone coverage, obviously. Managing the puck in getting the puck out. Managing the puck in the neutral zone. Applying and linking some of the things we’re working on. We spent a lot of time this week, actually, working on the offensive side as we’ve had a tough time scoring. Linking some of that — some of it’s linking and some of it’s not. It’s not necessarily transferring to our game.”

While they dominated the scoreboard in the first, the Saints saw the Cru come back strongly in the second and final periods, to leave with the well-deserved win. By the way, that victory was the first for the Park in the Grove since September of 2016. It also marked the first win against the Saints, both in the Grove and at home, in over a year after suffering seven straight regular season losses.

About that early lead, where Logan Ganie, Jansen Wyatt and Brett Trentham scored, Stephen noted, “I thought we got a little puck-lucky in the first period and we didn’t really deserve a 3-1 lead, to be honest. We didn’t play much of the game well, to be honest.”

Jordan Biro wasn’t arguing with the assessment his coach had. He noted the team hadn’t played overly well, but suggested this loss, the first of the season for the Saints on home ice, and the rivalry between these two teams, is something to build off of.

“It’s going to fuel the fire,” he said, in regard to looking for a measure of revenge the following night in the Park, and beyond. “This is a rivalry that’s been going on for a lot of years and we hate to lose games — especially to them. We had good stretches and just little lapses when we shut off and that’s when they capitalized.”

Biro, who lives in Sherwood Park, said this rivalry is built on wanting to win, not only on the ice but in recruiting players.

“The rivalry is cross-town so it’s really close. It’s kind of fight to get players,” because both teams are often looking to sign the same talent from the greater-Edmonton area, he noted, adding, “We hate to lose, especially to them.”

In speaking to the rematch the next night back in the Park, Stephen had this to say about the first game’s victors: “Yeah, they’ve definitely got confidence. We gave them that. It doesn't really matter who we’re playing though. Our group will be pretty fired up.

“With that being said,” he continued, “it’s not just so much compete as it is intelligence. We have to be smarter. That’s what we have to do better; play a little better as far as our details of the game without the puck. In that sense, our group just has to be in the right frame of mind. We were flat and then when they put pressure on us we got over the top and never really got centred.”

To Biro, getting back onto the ice against the team they’d just lost to was ideal, a chance for quick redemption.

“I think it’s a good thing for sure. We battled them tonight but had a few lapses, so like I said, that fuels the fire for tomorrow.”

The fire was burning brightly as the Saints posted a strong 2-0 in the Park the following night, on goals by Nick Leyer, on the power play in the first, and Parker Saretsky at even strength in the third. Matthew Davis posted his second straight shutout for the Saints and his eighth win in nine starts in that game.

That win was certainly better medicine for Stephen, and his crew, to swallow as they now head into a busy week. They travel to Whitecourt on Tuesday and then host the Calgary Mustangs and the Brooks Bandits on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27. Game times are at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena. Tickets are available at the door or online at sprucegrovesaints.com.

*Photo by Dave Ross

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