Saints clinch another North Division title
It may not have been the prettiest victory of the season for the Spruce Grove Saints, but a 4-3 shootout win over the Olds Grizzlys had the biggest payoff of the season … at least so far.
The Saints wobbled badly in the game, trailing 3-2 entering the latter stages of the final period, to a team, who’d lost 12 in a row, before getting a great goal by d-man Macklin Pichonsky on feeds from Brandon Biro and Jordan Thomas to send it to OT, and eventu-ally a shootout. In the 1-on-1 duals, Biro and Colton Leiter finished it off with goals while Ravi Dattani, who replaced started Matt Murray after 45:45 and the third Olds goal, stopped everything he saw through the rest of the game.
The win propelled the Saints to a 10-point lead in the North with 96 points and left them with such a lead they can’t be caught regardless of how the two closest teams, Whitecourt and Lloydminster, do in their remaining games.
Speaking to the win, head coach Jason McKee said he was disappointed at how his troops played on the day, considering the point differential between the clubs (60; 94-34) entering the game. He did however, credit his team with a strong game the night before in a 2-1 OT loss to the Sherwood Park Crusaders, so the weekend was a sort of saw-off for him.
“We were a little short-handed and I thought our guys competed hard, defended hard, and our guys gave up one goal against a very good team. I liked our compete yesterday,” he began in summarizing the Park game. “I didn’t fault our guys yesterday at all.”
“Today I didn’t like our game at all, start to finish, until about the last eight minutes. Our core guys really stole us this game. There were five or six guys that really got the job done. We really had a lot of passengers.”
The Saints were behind 1-0 after 20 minutes but took a 2-1 lead, on goals by Leiter and Biro into the dressing room after 40 minutes. In the third though things went sour when they gave up two to Olds, to trail 3-2 and looking very much like they would have to wait until another day to clinch another division title.
Then, the vets stepped, or in this case skated, in to the rescue.
Pichonsky ripped the game-tying goal in from the slot over the blocker of Olds goalie Ben Giesbrecht, to send it to OT. There, Leiter had the best chance to end things in the 5 minute session when he was broke in alone but was denied. If he had that chance over, the Grove forward who had another strong game said, he’d have taken a bit more time.
“It was too bad I couldn’t end it in overtime … I didn’t really think I’d have that much time,” he commented on running into the goalie’s pad. But he atoned for that, if you will, by putting the shootout winner exactly where he likes to go in that situation.
Then again, the Saints likely never saw themselves facing that sort of an ending to this game. The coach wasn’t sure why the effort wasn’t as strong as it should have been on this day, when asked if perhaps it was due to the point differential.
“I don’t know. I just think we ahh, every game’s the same for us. I’ve said that before and two points is two points. For us, the expectation is always playing our best but throughout our lineup we had holes.”
Even with the clinching win, McKee said there is still work to be done.
“We’re still trying to get as many points as we can to finish first overall. You want the playoffs to run through your home rink as much as possible. The guys have had a tre-mendous regular season and when you look at is as whole we still have games left and we want to finish on the right note. You know today wouldn’t have given us a lot of momen-tum if the playoffs were starting tomorrow, the way we played. There are things to work on to have everyone playing the right way.”
As for clinching two weeks before the end of the season, Leiter noted that’s a good thing especially following a tough loss the night prior.
“It feels really good to get the clinch. We always want the playoffs to run through Spruce Grove. It was a tough loss last night. I thought we battled hard. This afternoon we strug-gled a bit but came together and got the win out of it.”
And with that win came yet another North Division championship for the Saints, the seventh in a row (starting in 2008-09).
The Saints host Drayton Valley on Friday, Feb. 26 and they play their final home game of the regular season on Saturday, Feb. 27 when they host the Canmore Eagle. Both games are at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.