Saints weather late Cru rally to earn revenge
Revenge is a dish best served cold so the Spruce Grove Saints went looking to extract a measure of retribution, on a slab of ice.
Having fallen 3-1 to the Sherwood Park Crusaders in their last game before the 10-day holiday break, the league leading Saints were out to turn that score around in what was the first game back for both clubs after the hiatus.
That’s exactly what they did, winning 5-4, although the game didn’t start, or end, in the manner the Saints wanted.
The Cru jumped out to a 1-0 lead after only 60 seconds of play when Matthew Murray was beaten from in close after his defence had trouble corralling a loose puck. The Park’s Tyler Maltby pounced on the opportunity putting his team ahead for the only time in the game.
Colton Leiter of the Saints said later that it took a bit of time for his club to shake off the rink rust, but once they got rolling there was no stopping them.
“It’s not easy,” he said of getting the game legs back. “We had some days off but a full week of practice so that got us prepped up. It is tough but with all the ice time we had we got back on stride.”
Hitting the stride he was talking about saw the Saints score three goals in a span of less than four minutes late in the first period to head off after 20 minutes leading 3-1. The goals were scored by Conner Lukan, Josh Harris and Brandon Biro.
*** Saints #19 Brandon Biro get position in front of the goal and Crusader netminder #31 Zac Klassen
“I think we just kind of cued into the game plan and figured out what we needed to do,” Leiter explained of the turnaround. “We got a big goal to spark us and and we kept firing down in the O-zone with our cycle.”
In the second period the Saints continued to dominate, out-shooting the Park 18-8 and scoring once as Biro netted his second,. In the final period, they controlled things for the opening half and looked totally in charge when Tyler Busch scored to make it 5-1 with 9:50 left.
Then, things went sideways. The Park scored just over a minute later and again two minutes later, on the power play. Down by two, with two minutes to go they pulled their goalie and scored again, to make it a one-goal game. The Saints then hung on for the win, but not without some consternation.
Head coach Jason McKee said he wasn’t overly displeased with the somewhat slow start his troops had on this night. Rather, it was the end of the game where he found fault.
“I didn’t mind our start too much. It was OK. It was the finish I didn’t like. We were in complete control of the game then take a questionable penalty and it ends up in the back of your net and changes the momentum. We just did some things that made it a lot closer than it needed to be.”
*** Saints #18 Riley Simpson finished his check in the corner on an unnamed Crusader player
In assessing the total game, McKee did credit his players for their effort once they found their legs in the first period until losing them in the third.
“We generated something like 44 (actually 47) shots on goal so you have to be doing something right to do that,” he commented. “It was a decent game tonight, obviously better than the last time we saw them. It was just a disappointing last six minutes but those are teachable moments. We were still able to win, get the two points and we’ll be able to make corrections to our game going into next weekend.”
As to the rivalry that has built between these two clubs, Leiter said familiarity can breed contempt.
“We’re cross-town rivals and know a lot of guys on their team,” he said about the hard-hitting games with the Cru who always play the Saints tough. “It’s always a battle with them to see who can win the 6-game se***ries (regular season) between us.”
*** Tempers started getting heated in the 3rd period as seen here with Saints #14 Austin Hunter and Crusaders Zaharichuk
A big reason for gaining that revenge with the win after losing the last time out had to do with the Saints lineup on this night, Leiter said in closing.
“It was nice to have all our guys back,” he said of the bench that had three players back from the World Jr. A Challenge plus a couple of others returning from injury. “We didn’t have all our guys up front before the Christmas break but with the firepower we got back, it made it a lot easier.”
Leiter’s coach was in full agreement about seeing the bench full of healthy bodies again.
“It just gives us depth to our lineup, the wave of attack we like to have,” said McKee. “It keeps everyone fresh as well. You can use more guys in a lot of different situations. The first game back is tough but to generate that many shots, the depth showed and it’s nice to have guys back that are healthy.”
*** Saints #20 Trey Fix-Wolansky goes between the legs to change the shot angle on Crusaders goalie Klassen
These two teams have one more game left in their season series, which the Saints presently lead 4-1, so you know that next time out it will be about revenge again, this time though with the Cru looking to avenge this latest setback.
The Saints are in action, at home, twice this coming weekend. They host the Bonnyville Pontiacs on Saturday at 7 p.m and the Lloydminster Bobcats Sunday at 2 p.m. Both games are at the Grant Fuhr Arena in the Grove.
* PHOTOS BY GORD MONTGOMERY