Saints bounce back after disappointing loss
After letting one important point slip away from them over the weekend the Spruce Grove Saints weren’t about to let that happen a second time.
Playing against the top two teams chasing them for the lead in the tough North Division of the AJHL, the Saints squandered a late one-goal lead against the Bonnyville Pontiacs, ultimately falling 3-2 in a shootout in the opener. The next night, they struck early and built up a four goal cushion to down the Lloydminster Bobcats 6-3.
Conner Lukan, who has had a solid year up front for the Saints, said after the win that the entire team realized they let an important point get away from them against Bonnyville, especially since the tying goal was scored by the Pontiacs when the Saints were two skaters short late in the third period.
***Saints #37 Dexter McLeod is making life difficut for a Bobcats player, as #31 Matt Murray looks on
“For sure,” he agreed when asked if players had to keep their cool, especially late in a game. “Jay (head coach McKee) was pretty upset about it. Today though we showed him we could play the right way, keep them contained and keep the lead.”
Lukan noted he didn’t think the Saints were looking ahead to the battle against Lloyd a few hours early.
“Jay has us focused on one game at a time and our game plan changes depending on the team,” he began. “It’s tough (winning) when the standings are this tight.”
McKee wasn’t pleased with the loss, especially the way it came about.
“It was a difference maker,” he said of the late penalties his team took when leading by one. “We’ve lost some points this year from taking costly penalties at costly times. But we’ve got to learn moving forward and I thought we were a little better today. It’s a matter of controlling emotions, especially at key times in the game.”
A key component to the win was the power play which has been hit and miss this season.
“It’s funny. We’ve worked on it and it wasn’t great (against Bonnyville). Today it was more of chalkboard meeting,” and the results from that were outstanding as they scored four times with the extra skater. “We had good traffic and got pucks to the net. When you do that, a lot of times you get rewarded. Credit to the guys.”
***An unidentified Saints player crashing the crease for a rebound off of Lloydminsters goaltender
In regard to the big win over Lloydminster, Lukan said that despite giving up a goal with eight seconds left in the opening period to make it 2-1 Saints, they kept their focus this time around.
“We just tried to stay positive, stick to our game plan,” he said, noting that the bench settled itself down after the Bobcats had narrowed the lead to 5-3 in the third. “We just tried to make the simple plays, not complicate things,” he ended.
McKee said that first period goal by the Bobcats could have delated a team but his troops didn’t let it get to them as they weathered a late storm to pick up the important win.
“Our urgency level was a lot higher today than yesterday, for whatever reason. Yesterday stung but our guys bounced back and weren’t going to be denied (today). Even when they made it 5-3, the power play goes out right away and makes it 6-3. I thought we always had a response and that was nice to see.”
Scoring for the Saints in the Bonnyville game were Colton Leiter and Conner Lukan while against Lloydminster, Riley Simpson, Josh Harris, Cole Nicholson and Trey Fix-Wolanski scored the power play goals with Brandon Biro and Connor James netting even strength markers.
The Saints are away from home until Wednesday, Jan. 20 when they host the Whitecourt Wolverines. They then play again at home on Jan. 22 against the Pontiacs and Jan. 24 they host the Calgary Mustangs.
*Photos by Gord Montgomery