EDMONTON — To be the best you have to beat the best and that requires some pushback at some time or another during a game. The Spruce Grove Saints had very little of that in their second meeting within a week against the Okotoks Oilers, as they suffered their second loss to that team.
The Oilers left Northlands Coliseum with possibly the legacy of being the last team to win a competitive hockey game there, as they upended the Saints 6-4. That win followed a 4-1 victory over the Grove side in a game down south a week earlier.
Speaking outside an extremely quiet dressing room, the former hangout of the illustrious Edmonton Oilers teams, Saints bench boss Bram Stephen found himself somewhat at a loss for words as to what he had just witnessed.
“It’s hard to put a positive light on this,” he began, agreeing that perhaps the fact two d-men, TJ Lloyd and Jared Gourley were at the World Jr. A Championships and that his club failed to match the pace of the Oilers were factors.
“Probably a bit of both. I’d say a combination of both. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” was his statement.
The Saints managed to hold the lead but one time in the contest, 2-1 early in the second, and learned first-hand how a team has to bounce back from adversity in order to be con-sidered the team to beat. At that point, like the original Oilers from this building, the Oko-toks variety scored twice in 1:01 and three times in 1:47 to take a lead they never relin-quished.
While the Saints did narrow the gap to one goal a couple of times they never caught all the way up again, and that was what Stephen was concerned about.
“You know what it is?” he asked when queried about that fact. “They’re (Oilers) a very high character team and their pushback is phenomenal. It really is. They’re championship-like and it’s something we can learn from.”
A team that learns from a loss becomes better so his team has to realize they have a way to go before they can claim they are the top dog in the AJHL.
“It’s purely a tell,” said Stephen. “We had a pretty good game plan that our guys tried to execute. I think we lost a lot of battles and support battles and those are things to learn from, but are also tough to change … not to say we don’t battle hard but there is obvious-ly a team in the league that’s ahead of us in that category right now.”
As to the players’ takeaway from this loss, and the other one to Okotoks, Nick Leyer said, “I think we just need to put some things togetherand start competing. I mean, we’re just that close. There was that one goal,” by Parker Saretsky that pushed the Saints into a short-lived 2-1 lead. “then we got stuck in our own end, get scored on, and that kind of depleted us. It just comes down to who wants it more at that time, I guess. We’ll be better next time we play them.”
The Saints were better the next night, and had the pushback their coach was seeking, as they edged the Whitecourt Wolverines 1-0 in their barn. The game’s only goal came in the third period from Brett Trentham while Hayden Missler stopped all 23 shots he saw for his second AJHL shutout. The win moved the Saints three points clear of Whitecourt, and one behind Fort McMurray in the North Division standings.
The Saints final pre-Christmas game is on Wednesday, Dec. 20, when they host the Sher-wood Park Crusaders in a 7 p.m. game at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
*PHOTO BY DAVE ROSS