Scoring sprees propel Saints to two big wins;third win a bit closer
Runaway games in the AJHL at this time of year aren’t unheard of but they are somewhat of a rarity. Of the 52 league games played since Jan. 1, 2016, only 11 have been decided by more than five goals and two of those were crafted by the Spruce Grove Saints over the past week.
The Saints got things rolling with a convincing 8-1 win over the Grande Prairie Storm, in Slave Lake. They followed that up with an 11-2 thrashing of the Canmore Eagles before rounding out the weekend with a 3-2 squeaker against the Calgary Mustangs.
Asked about the big numbers his boys posted in the first two wins, Saints head coach Jason McKee noted, “Those were a couple of games where the bounces went our way and we were fortunate. We played well, created opportunities for ourselves and when you’re doing things right you tend to get the bounces. The combination of those led to the goals. We were happy with the offence we were able to create in those games.”
While scoring lots is always something to celebrate it was the players who led the goals-for charge in those games that was the highlight. Newcomers Dondre Watson picked up a hat trick, plus an assist, against the Storm. Then another new Saint, Scott Ferguson went to work recording a hatty against the Eagles as did Brandon Biro, a second-year Saint.
McKee said it takes players who have been added to the roster a while to fit in with their new teammates but with veteran guys like Watson and Ferguson the transition can be a bit quicker.
“It usually takes 10 to 15 games for them to get a feel for our systems and where we want to be at certain times. Usually the older players pick it up a little quicker but it will take them some time as well. Obviously we had real good contributions from Watson and Ferguson, as well as Biro. It’s nice to score but I think we, as a group, know those will be rare games heading into the last 15.”
The other goals in those two romps came from Austin Hunter, Isaac Farah, Colton Leiter, Cole Nicholson, and Conner Lukan against the Storm and Trey Fix-Wolanski, Tyler Busch, Watson, Nicholson, Lukan and Hunter in Canmore.
What had to be even better in both those wins was the fact the Saints jumped ahead early and ran up the score so any comeback hopes were pretty well dashed. Against the Storm is was 8-0 before the Saints gave up a goal; against Canmore it was 7-0. That wasn’t the case in the one-goal win in Calgary though and that fact had McKee a little less effusive about his team’s efforts that day.
“We had a sluggish game, really, from start to finish,” he said of the 3-2 win. “They (Mustangs) played hard. They created some opportunities for their team and we were just sluggish throughout the whole game. We weren’t sharp from top to bottom.”
That being said, the Saints did fire off 41 shots on the Calgary net, but only Leiter, Riley Simpson and Farrah, with the game winner in the third breaking a 2-2 tie, could find the back of the net. During the three games, the Saints had a total of 127 shots on goal.
“The shot count was up, we had some chances early, but our overall game play was like I said, sluggish,” McKee emphasized of the win in Calgary
With three huge home games on tap this weekend, the bench boss isn’t expecting offensive fireworks of any sort. That being said though, he did note both the offence and the defence are going to be vital in earning wins in the games against Whitecourt (Jan. 20), Bonnyville (Jan. 22) and the Mustangs (Jan. 24).
“First and foremost, you’re going to have to be able to defend but you still have to score,” he said of what’s needed to build on their their 4-game win streak. “I think that’s a big part of it. Having a good combination of the two gives you the best chance to win. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We have 15 games left and there are no easy games anymore.”
Game times Wednesday and Friday are 7 p.m.; Sunday’s tilt starts at 2 p.m. All the games are at the Grant Fuhr Arena in the Grove.