Good teams find ways to win so it’s no surprise then that really good teams find different ways to win.
The Spruce Grove Saints proved that theory last week as they skated to two more wins, topping Bonnyville in their own barn 5-3 by coming from behind for the two points and then de-clawing the Olds Grizzlys, in their den, by a 10-2 count.
The victories stretched the latest win streak for the Saints to three games, and marked their 20th triumph in league play in their last 21 outings. It also moved them one spot up to No. 2 overall in the national rankings of junior A hockey clubs, sitting behind only Fort McMurray.
Of the two latest wins, Saints bench boss Jason Mckee said the first was by far the most impressive even though the whole game for his side wasn’t totally impressive.
“We played pretty well in Bonnyville in the first period but didn’t have a great second,” he commented before adding, “but we had a real strong third.”
In that game, the Saints saw a 2-0 first period lead evaporate into a 3-2 deficit after 40 minutes. In the final period though the Saints got goals from Cameron Hughes (his second of the game) to tie it, Parker Mackay with the winner and Connor Hoekstra with an insurance marker into an empty net to leave town with another two points. The other Grove goal came from Tyler Busch.
“We were able to come from behind, get the lead, and play well defensively to hold onto the lead,” said Mckee. “To come from behind was a real positive for our team. We got contributions from a lot of different guys that night and that’s key. On the road, if you can continue to roll lines, try to wear teams down and not get tired, that’s a real key and I thought we were able to do that for the most part.”
The come-from-behind win in Bonnyville will prove key down the road, the coach feels because it shows his charges that they can overcome obstacles.
“The biggest thing is just the belief that if we continue to do what we’re doing, we’ll get rewarded for it. It always comes back to a couple of things each player and our team can control — their attitude and our work ethic. If they’re putting the effort in at some point you’re going to get rewarded for that and very rarely are you rewarded if you’re not.”
Another key in that win was what transpired in between the second and third periods.
“It’s a strong (dressing) room and some things were said in there that didn’t have to come from me which is also a sign of growth and maturity.”
The second win of the week started out slowly but picked up momentum as the Saints got on track and the Grizzlys became untracked.
“We were creating opportunities but the puck wasn’t going in for us early, but eventually it did,” the Grove coach noted. “The end result though, if we’re speaking honestly, was more a result of them self-destructing and us just continuing to play our game.”
The story of that game was the play of Dylan Hollman, who with five goals had the biggest one-game goal-scoring spree of any Saint since they came back to town 10 years ago and helped him be named the AJHL’s Player of the Week. Mckee said the veteran forward who had just returned to AJ action following time in the world junior championship (see related story on Page 78) has a newfound presence on the ice.
“In any player’s development there’s a time when you start to take that next step and Dylan is clearly starting to take that next step. He came back full of confidence. He was gripping it a bit tightly in the first couple of games but relaxed and just got back to being himself and he was rewarded for that.”
Mckee said Hollman scored his goals in a variety of ways, the mark of a true team player who’s not afraid to go into the tough areas of the rink to put the puck in the net.
“I think that’s really a credit to him. He can score in tight, beat a guy one-on-one, score with a shot, go to the net and bang in rebounds. He’s got a full arsenal there and that really showed on Saturday.”
Other goals in the win, in a game that was called with 30 seconds left due to Olds sending extra bodies onto the ice when they were playing short-handed, came from Busch, Brandon Hickey, Hoekstra, Tyler Robertson and Austin Hunter.
The Saints now meet up with the Whitecourt Wolverines in a home-and-home series this weekend. Mckee said he likes these kinds of weekends as it’s a bit of a pre-playoff mini-series for his guys.
“It’s good. It’s an opportunity for our guys to get used to playing the same opponent two nights in a row, one there and one here. You play and you make your adjustments. It’s a good learning curve for the kids to learn to play back-to-back,” and the rate at which the Saints are learning this year, especially in how to pick up wins, means they’ll be ready to go when the puck drops this weekend.
The home game against Whitecourt is takes place on Saturday, at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.