Saints weren’t fully prepared for busy week…
Being prepared for a hockey game means more than being physically ready to play. It also means being mentally primed, a fact the Spruce Grove Saints found out last week.
The Saints, who entered the week sporting a perfect record soon found themselves staring at two losses, albeit along with two more wins, in a four-game span from Oct. 7 through Oct. 13.
While they picked up a pair of wins against the Grande Prairie Storm by scores of 5-1 and 5-2 after a home ice loss, their first of the year to the Lloydminster Bobcats 5-4. The week ended on a down note, when the Saints fell 5-2 to Bonnyville in a game that was tied at two in the third period.
Head coach Jason McKee said both losses were the result of his players not being ready for the challenges that lay in front of them against two of the top teams in the North Division of the AJHL.
Both of the losses came to teams the Saints had beaten in their first meetings of the season, 4-1 over Lloyd and 8-0 over the Pontiacs. The turnabout, McKee said, showed his club they must be ready each time out regardless of what happened the game before.
“Every chance I get I try to express to these guys how tight it is this year (in the standings), how good these other teams are. I think in the Lloyd game we just turned pucks over in bad areas of the rink and they made us pay for that. We had a bit of slow start but got better as the game went on. We just made to many Grade A mistakes in costly areas.
“In Bonnyville, it was strictly preparation, work ethic. We weren’t engaged in the game; took eight penalties. We were short-handed for almost a period of the game,” and Bonnyville feasted on that going 3-for-8 on the power play including the game-winner.
“You add those together, especially last night, and you’re not going to get the result you were looking for.”
What upset the bench boss more than the losses, because after all no on expected an unbeaten season despite the solid 9-0 start, was the lack of effort by the vast majority of his players.
“We had one or two guys I felt played to expectation but we had a whole bunch of guys who didn’t. It was definitely a disappointing day for our team.”
McKee noted that while it’s expected veteran players will lead by example, that simply didn’t happen.
“Our returning guys didn’t play well,” he stated bluntly. “They’re depended on to play well every night and they didn’t play well in regard to being prepared to play and our discipline in penalties and our structure. We had guys trying to make the super play and it hurt us. We need to just get back to playing simple hockey, being physically and mentally ready to go for games. We were none of that and we definitely paid for that.”
In the wins in Grande Prairie, where things got a tad feisty especially in the second game, McKee said he expects a similar type of contest this Friday when the Storm roll into town for their third meeting with the Saints in eight days.
“It was a situation where both teams were playing hard, going at it, and I expect the same thing on Friday. They’re a team that comes hard, they compete, and if they cross the line and take penalties, our power play needs to make them pay. If our power play is good, it will make them think twice about taking some of those penalties.”
Unfortunately though, that special teams’ unit for the Saints hasn’t been overly effective as of late. In the two games against the Storm, the Saints were 1-for-7 with a man advantage; against Lloydminster they scored twice on five such chances and were held off the scoresheet in five opportunities against Bonnyville.
“It’s always a difference maker and you want to be consistent as possible with your power play,” McKee said of that hiccup as of late. “Right now we’re kind of having highs and lows and you want to take that out of there. Be a real consistent group and chip in at least one a night. That’s a real big part of the game right now because it’s hard to score 5-on-5.
“We’ve had our chances,” including two in Bonnyville that could have turned the game around. “We just missed plays, missed pucks, and that goes back to the mental side of it. We weren’t prepared to execute our game plan and things just didn’t go well.”
Asked if this hectic two week stretch, where the team will play six games including one with Brooks on Saturday night, has tired out his young talent, McKee didn’t think so.
“It’s been busy but it’s part of it. Every team goes through this. We have to learn to be better. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel here, we just need to be ready to play. For whatever reason we’re just going into games to see what happens rather than dictating what happens.”
So the Saints now go looking to dictate the flow of play twice this weekend, when they host the Storm on Friday and the Bandits on Saturday at the Grant Fuhr Arena. Both games start at 7 p.m.