Defence and discipline vault Saints into 2-0 series lead
When one initially looks at the scores from the first two games of the Spruce Grove Saints/Sherwood Park Crusaders playoff series, the striking thing you notice is the number of goals the Saints scored — 14.
Perhaps what is more important though is the number of goals allowed — 2.
That defence, and their composure under fire, is what this team is all about and what could lead them deep into the post-season yet again, as the Saints finally got back to work after an almost three week layoff.
***Saints defensemen come to the aid of Ravi Dattani here in Game 1. Saints went on to win 8-1
In the first game following a 19-day hiatus, the Saints came out flying. From the first shift on they dominated the Cru, and broke things open early by building up a 4-0 first period lead en route to a convincing 8-1 win. The next night, while they didn’t start quite as strongly, the finish was certainly there as they again rolled to a big win, this time to the tune of 6-1.
Speaking to the long layoff, and the quick start despite that break, Saints head coach Jason McKee said over the years the preparation has changed for his club following the first round bye.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve changed our approach a bit to how we practise. It’s more game-like situations and playing some high-tempo scrimmages that keeps them sharp with their timing.”
That timing was evident as the Saints dominated the first game from the get-go, It was a different story in Game 2 though as the Cru took an early lead and looked to build on that by playing their game — a crash and bang style. The Saints took that away by quickly replying on the power play and then skating away, for the most part, from any extracurricular activities their opponent wanted to engage in.
***Saints #27 Brendan Holterhus looks for a rebound on the Sherwood Park Crusaders netminder in Game #2 action.
“So far I’ve like our pace but it was a bit slower start tonight but we got going and when we skate we’re a good team,” said McKee.
Asked about sticking to their game plan and not playing the way the Cru would like, McKee noted going into the series there were keys to being successful.
“At the start of the series we wanted to be able to exit our zone and we’ve done a pretty good job of that. We wanted to make them play in their end as much as possible and use our speed. The guys have done a good job of executing the game plan. We believe in what we’re doing and it seems to be working right now. We just have to continue to push the pace.”
What the Saints have also done a good job of is staying out of harm’s way, for the most part, when frustration sets in on the Sherwood Park side of the ice. In Game 2, tempers flared on several occasions with the Park taking the majority of penalty minutes that were handed out.
***Saints #16 Colton Leiter looks on as Crusaders #16 Tyler Maltby crashes into Saints goalie Ravi Dattani.
Speaking to his club’s composure, McKee said “discipline is a huge part of playoffs and the game to me is won between the whistles. Our guys did an excellent job. A couple of times our emotion got the better of us, but I thought our discipline was very good and we’re going to have to continue with that.”
In the first game, Tyler Busch was the only Saint to register more than one goal as he netted a pair. Others came off the sticks of Ian Mitchell, Cole Nicholson, Josh Harris, Brandon Biro, Isaac Farrah and Colton Leiter. In the second game, Trey Fix-Wolansky opened the scoring and he was followed to the net by Austin Hunter, Busch, Jake Mykitiuk, Connor James and Riley Simpson. In the Grove goal, Ravi Dattani got the first game win while Matt Murray posted the ‘W’ the next night.
The series continues Monday and Wednesday in the Park. If a fifth game is necessary, it’s back in the Grove on Friday, March 25
Photos by Dave Ross