Saints tenders toss back-to-back zeros at Southern foes
Anything you can do, I can do beh … uh, equally as well.
That may well have been the conversation between the Spruce Grove Saints goaltending tandem of Matthew Murray and newly acquired Garret Mason over the weekend. Both puck-stoppers threw zeroes up on the board, taking out Camrose 4-0 and Okotoks 3-0 respectively in two home games over the weekend.
Murray was sharp against the South Division leading Kodiaks in his outing on Friday, stepping in front of 30 shots while Mason had things a bit easier in his Sunday appearance, his first as a Saint, blocking all 24 shots he saw.
“It’s a dream. Its a team that plays for each other, they’re not selfish, it’s awesome,” Mason said moments after his initiation under fire with the Saints.
The tender, picked up in a trade with Drayton Valley in exchange for goalie Brett Zawrony, said fitting in with his new mates was essentially as easy as blocking a shot coming at him from the far end of the rink.
“The guys made it real easy, came up and introduced themselves, just made me feel part of the family,” he related, noting this was the first time he’d been traded, thus he may not have been too sure what the reception was going to be. Needless to say, after what he did in his first outing, if he was still an outsider to someone in the locker room, that wasn’t the case anymore.
Mason showed he’s ready for prime time with the Saints as he was perfect in his opening game. As a memento of the shutout and his first game with the Saints, Mason dug the game puck out of the net — ironically his own.
Saints new goalie Garrett Mason gets congratulations from teammates after posting his first shutout win as a Saint, 3-0 over the Okotoks Oilers.
“I have no idea how it got into the net,” he remarked of the one that did finally get by him. “I’m pretty sure someone on Okotoks just threw it in there,” after the final buzzer.
The guy that threw the Saints first goal into the Okotoks net, which turned out to be the game-winner, was Riley Simpson who agreed that he is far more comfortable this season than ever before. So far this year in 26 games he has 27 points. The most he’s scored in an entire 60-game sked for the Saints in the past was 37 points, accumulated last year.
“I’m just more familiar with everything, playing with more confidence,” said Simpson, who is now wearing an ‘A’ on his jersey, explained. “I’ve been here for two years so I’m trying to step up and produce more for the team.”
As for being an on-ice captain, Simpson knows the expectation that carries.
“Obviously, it’s an honour. We’re got a lot of guys that are good leaders and this just gives you a little more incentive to play harder, win your battles and just contribute more.”
His goal on Sunday, the 11th of the year — he had 16 all of last year — was a rocket from the slot in the first period that cleanly beat the Okotoks goalie. Being the leader he is, Simpson credited teammates, Tyler Morrison and Jack Hamly, with setting up the pretty tally.
“They made a good play, a couple of drop passes and then I got in the slot in time and saw an opening,” and hit it perfectly with his wrist shot.
Other goals in the Sunday win came from newcomer Taylor Crunk in the second period and Hamly in the third. In the Camrose win, goals were scored by Austin Hunter (9 seconds in), Josh Harris, Ryan Cox and Liam Gregor.
Seen here, newcomer Taylor Crunk (22) scored his first goal as a Saints vs. Okotoks this past Sunday, adds both size and good hands.
As for these two wins that followed a 6-4 win over Olds, in their barn earlier in the week, head coach Jason McKee said he was extremely pleased with the Camrose win, and while the Okotoks win was points in the book, it wasn’t played at maybe quite the same level.
“We played really, really well on Friday. I liked our whole team game. Our forwards, our D, our goaltending all played a real complete game, as good as we’ve played in a long, long time.
All facets of the game on Friday against Camrose were workingwell, including the defence and their ability the puck up ice, shown here by Saints dman Connor James
“Today (Okotoks) we had a slow start I thought, and then we got better as the game went on. There are areas we need to get better at but what’s been consistent all year, though there have been games where we’ve been off, has been our team defence. When things aren’t going offensively, you’re got to have that base and grind wins out, and we were able to do that today.”
McKee noted that playing three games in a row, two at home, against South Division teams is unique in the AJHL but something he himself wouldn’t mind seeing more of.
“It’s different but teams are teams,” he began. “I like it. To be honest I’d like to see a more balanced schedule in our league, more teams more often, but it is what it is and for us at this point it’s a hockey game and we’re just trying to win hockey games whether they’re from the North or the South. Our routine doesn’t change.”
Having helped themselves to some Southern hospitality, if you will, by taking all six points that were available to them against the other division during the past week, it’s now back to the business of the North Division this weekend. On Friday the Saints travel to Bonnyville for a game against the Pontiacs and then host the Lloydminster Bobcats on Saturday in a battle for first in the North.
While McKee has said in the past that big tests like this at this time of year aren’t any more or less than any other game during a long season, this coming weekend is going to be a crucial one.
“I think they’re significant,” he began. “As tight as the division is this year, the league in general but the North especially, it’ll be good. It’ll be two teams that are going to come hard. We play back-to-back nights, get home late Friday and then play Lloyd on Saturday. It’ll be a good test, similar to a playoff test. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be physical and there won’t be a lot of free space out there and it will be a bit of a grind for us with that short turn over. It’s good. We need to go through it and see where we’re at. Fight through adversity and hopefully find ways to have success.”
Game time Saturday in the Grove is at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena in the Grove.