Saints steamroll Storm in their opening round of post-season
By Gord Montgomery
Overpowering. That, in the truest sense of the word, is the only way to describe how the Spruce Grove Saints rolled through their first playoff opponent, the Grande Prairie Storm.
In fact, the Saints were so overpowering they turned the Storm into nothing but a wisp of wind.
Coming off their first-round bye, the Saints showed no signs of rust as they out-scored the outmatched Storm 28-2 in winning the best-of-seven series in straight games. The game scores were 8-0, 5-2, 7-0 and 8-0. While the Storm showed occasional signs of being a better team than they have been for the past few seasons, they just didn’t have the game plan, the skill, the legs, or the depth to blow the Saints from the post-season.
About that fact, the winner's bench boss, Bram Stephen said after Game 4 that he simply did what he’s done all year long — roll all four of his lines. The Storm couldn’t match that and essentially ground their top six players down with continual long shifts, leaving them with tired legs and broken dreams when all was said and done.
“That’s the philosophy when we’re talking about lines,” began Stephen. “If you can find ways not take too much away from a line and add a lot to another line, find ways to make roster moves whether it’s in the middle of the game or just at the start of the game, it’s something we’ve tried to do all year. It’s nice to see that push from four lines and three sets of D.”
As for how things played out in this series, the Grove coach was admittedly as surprised as anyone at the runaway train that hit Grande Prairie.
“I thought we played pretty well for the most part. I didn’t expect the scores to be like this. I don’t know what to say about that for the most part,” he said following the domi-nating last game performance by his club.
In addressing how well rounded the scoring was in the four games, where every player had at least one point and where rookie Jordan Biro and veteran Chase Olsen were both major factors, Stephen had this to say: “I don’t know if it’s so much 5-on-5 that was so important but our power play unit was a little dry and for them to score all our power play goals this series makes us a little more dynamic having two units,” that can score with the extra skater.
Speaking about goal scorers, Biro, who is tied with vet Austin Parmiter for the team lead in points with eight, said this round, his first post-season experience in the AJHL, helped him get his feet firmly on the ground after striking for two goal in the opener, including the game winner, and the game winner in the final game.
“As the playoffs keep going on you get more and more comfortable and with a veteran team kind of helping me along the way, it’s been good so far.”
Of course Jordan is the younger brother of Brandon, who starred for the Saints a couple of years ago. The siblings exchanged pleasantries, and advice, during a phone call prior to the start of the series.
“We talked for quite a while before things got started and he just kind of told me what to expect, and how things are getting ramped up with the speed, tempo and pace,” Jordan explained. “He’s kind of been giving me little tips along the way and it’s helped.”
As for opening the series’ scoring, and potting two game winners thus far, the younger Biro agreed it has been a fun ride.
“It’s been exciting just to know you’re helping the team as much as you can and to get on the scoresheet a little bit.”
Another guy whose name is showing up often in the stats is Parameter, who wired two goals in the last period of the final game to put things out of reach for the Storm, who happen to be a squad he formerly played for. He noted the approach by the Saints entering the series was to watch the Storm’s top four or five guys because in reality, that’s really all they had.
“We knew they had some top scorers on their team but they’re two lines deep, you’d say, and we handled them really well. I don’t think their top guys got on the score sheet at all this series (they had only two points and no goals). We went in and executed our game plan.”
About everyone sharing in their own bounty of points — the Saints scored eight goals on this night but nobody had more than two and only four players of 18 skaters had none — Parmiter agreed that’s a good thing going forward.
“We have a really well-rounded team and our depth is one of our strengths and it shows in games like this. Overall, it’s good.”
Now with another lengthy rest looming that will see the Saints out of action for nine days after a 13 day layoff thanks to that opening bye, Stephen said rest can never be over-rated especially considering how condensed this series was.
“Four games in five nights, you don’t even see that in the NHL, you don’t see that any-where,” he began. “It feels like you’re playing a short-term competition. Rest is good. We’ll take it but we firmly believe in practicing hard and we’ll be ready to go in the North Final. This (sweep) was a good thing for sure.”
The North Final will begin in Spruce Grove on Friday, March 30 and again on Saturday, March 31, where the winner of the Whitecourt/Fort McMurray series will be the oppo-nent. And by that time, a well rested Saints offence and defence will be ready to go once again.
*PHOTOS BY DAVE ROSS