Early numbers stacking up in right way for Saints
By Gord Montgomery
Sometimes numbers can lie, especially in sports. But more often than not, those digits accurately reflect, almost to perfection, what’s taken place on the field of play. That has been the case for the Spruce Grove Saints this year as they kicked off the new season with three straight wins.
To date, in 5-2 and 4-1 wins over Lloydminster and then a 5-2 victory over the Camrose Kodiaks, the Saints have dominated the time of possession and shots-on-goal categories, as well as the final outcome in all three games. Including their latest win, where they allowed the Kodiaks a meagre 16 shots on goal, they Saints have allowed only 58 total opportunities for opponents to put the puck in their net, while firing off 115 of their own.
Speaking to that strong defensive zone coverage, Saints assistant coach Brennan Menard stated, “It’s playing hard without the puck, playing fast without the puck. We’re also committed to blocking shots and being in shot lanes and I think all of that combined gives you what you see here.”
For the vast majority of time the Saints have been picture perfect in their own zone, save for a few missteps here and there. That was the case with the two goals the Kodiaks did score in their latest outing, coming in a time frame of 58 seconds apart, in the third period. Those goals cut a comfortable 4-0 lead to 4-2 before the Saints responded to close out the game’s scoring late in the final period. Of those surrendered goals, Menard noted, “I would say that was our closest effort to 60 minutes, but I probably wouldn’t say it would be considered 60 minutes,” due to the sudden spurt of life shown by Camrose.
Good teams always recover quickly and that was the case here for the Saints. “You could see on the bench that these guys know how to handle these sorts of things and they bounced back pretty hard,” ended Menard.
One of the guys doing some of that shot blocking and shutting down the defensive zone this year is veteran Tanner Hickey, who has also chipped in with some great offensive zone rushes from the backend this year. He says that there is a game plan put into play each and every night that makes coverage in their own end work so well.
“It’s just trying to squeeze guys out before they get to our blue line, make them try to earn the zone. Not give them any zones for free,” and to date, the numbers that reflect shots on goal, and unofficially the time of offensive zone possession, favour the Saints.
As to his offensive capabilities and the great end-to-end rushes he, and blue line newcomer Cory Balbichuk have shown so far this year, those are all pretty much seat-of-the-pants plays, Hickey continued.
“It’s more or less when the ice opens up. We definitely enforce our D to get up in the play, get up in the rush, try to create as much offence as we can,” and to this point in time, that’s proven successful. The numbers show the Saints defensive corps has accumulated nine points in the opening three games, on three goals and six helpers.
Another big factor for on-ice success has been the speed at which this club plays, Hickey agreed, as both opponents thus far have had trouble matching what the Saints present on a nightly basis
“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of team speed. A lot of teams have individual speed but we all skate together with a high level of team speed,” which leaves others spinning their wheels in trying go to match that pace.
In closing, Hickey said this team reminds him a lot of last year’s championship squad, not only in how they play but how they interact.
“Very similar, actually. We’ve got a few more vets this year, I’m not too sure on the numbers, but we’ve got characters in the room. It’s very similar to last year,” and that, along with how the numbers are stacking up, favour this year’s squad in a big way.
Scoring for the Saints in the Camrose win were Parker Saretsky (2), Logan Ganie, Stanley Cooley with his first as a Saint, and TJ Lloyd.
The Saints are away from home until Oct. 6, as they head to Grande Prairie this weekend and then play in the AJHL Showcase in Camrose the following weekend.