By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
There’s something to be said for home cooking and home ice advantage. Just ask the Spruce Grove Saints.
Coming off a 1-2 week of road games, the Saints posted back-to-back wins last weekend at home when they downed the Drumheller Dragons 4-2 and then took out the Sherwood Park Crusaders 5-4 in overtime. The wins were enough to vault the Saints back into first place in the tightly bunched AJHL North Division.
Asked about the virtues of playing at home, assistant coach Michael Ringrose, who was handling the bench duties with the absence of lead man Jason Mckee, said it was nice to be in familiar territory but it was nicer to see the team play consistently.
“You always feel better about things when you end up on the right side of the margin,” he began, “but our focus this weekend was just to make sure we were playing the game on an even keel. For the last week, 10 days, we’ve been riding the roller coaster here a little bit emotionally. Our highs were high and our lows were low and we wanted to get away from that and play the same game all the time.”
They did that beginning with the win over the Dragons, who for a last-place club put up a good battle. The game was tied at one until the Saints went on a scoring binge early in the third period, netting three goals in 6:46 and two of those 16 seconds apart.
One of the scorers in the game with a goal and an assist, rookie Cameron Hughes, said after the win this year has been a big learning experience for himself and the other newcomers on the team.
“We tried to keep it at an even keel through the whole game,” he said, noting it has been a bit of an adjustment going from midget hockey to the AJ and that playing at an even keel, as their coach wants, is important.
“You’ve got to be consistent the whole way,” he stated.
“The message this weekend was obviously taken to heart,” said Ringrose. “We had lots of opportunities to dive back into the valleys, to step back, and we didn’t. We got the result we were looking for in the end.”
Of the scoring spree his team had against Drumheller, Ringrose said it was nice to see his guys capitalize on some opportunities.
“We had lots of chances we didn’t score on through the first two periods. For whatever reason in a (short) period there a couple went in. It’s not that we did anything different; we just stayed with what we were doing. We stayed with the game plan and were rewarded with it.”
As for making use of the young guys on the team, with Hughes in particular taking a draw deep in the defensive zone in the last minute with the Dragons goalie on the bench for an extra skater, the coach said the rookies have earned what they’re receiving.
“Our young guys have had to step up. It’s a credit to Hughsie; he earned the right to be there in that situation. When players like Dylan Richard leave (for the World Jr. A championship) and Tim Nolte’s out of the lineup (with an injury) there’s additional minutes and additional opportunity and that’s a good example of an opportunity for a player that might not have his number called if we were healthy. He stepped in and did the job, so credit to him for taking advantage of the opportunity. It’s fun to see guys step up and take advantage of those.”
In the Sherwood Park game, the Saints trailed by a goal three times but never gave up and rallied for the win which pleased their coach, when d-man Dustin Fostvelt potted his own rebound in extra time.
“We had lots of opportunity in that game to make excuses but stuck to it and battled back,” said Ringrose.
Part of the difficulty the Saints had to overcome was a short bench, again, as the affiliates used in Friday’s game (James Vermeulen, who set up the winner by Hughes and Daniel Huculak) were back with their midget team the next night, leaving the good guys with only 17 players dressed.
“We were short but credit to the players in that room. They dug deep and got the job done,” the coach stated.
As for Vermuelen and Huculak, Ringrose noted, “They stepped in and did a great job. Our group of affiliates we have this year are good players and they’ve proved that. ”
The Saints are at the Grant Fuhr Arena on Friday when they host Okotoks and then go to Stony Saturday to host the Calgary Mustangs. Of that game, Ringrose said, “It’s a great environment and it’s always fun to get in there and play a home game in a different environment. We look forward to it.”
Both weekend games begin at 7 p.m.