Saints treat fans to two more wins, in very different ways, on home ice
By Gord Montgomery
It was fan friendly hockey at the Grant Fuhr Arena over the weekend … especially if you’re a fan of the Spruce Grove Saints.
The Saints hooked up with two of the better teams in the AJHL South Division and came away with wins in both games, although those victories came about in different ways. The first was a 4-3 OT win over the Calgary Mustangs while the second was a thrilling 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Brooks Bandits, who were riding a 14-game unbeaten streak coming into that contest. Those two games followed another win, 5-3 over the Whitecourt Wolverines earlier in the week
Even though his squad posted four points in those two home games, Bram Stephen said he wasn’t overly pleased with the first of the two outings despite the outcome.
“Our game last night (against Calgary) was really disappointing, start to finish,” the head coach of the Saints began. “We didn’t play well at all. We kind of got what we de-served late in the game,” when the ‘Stangs potted the tying goal with less than a minute left in the third period to force the overtime session. “We were fortunate enough to come up with the two points in that one. It was a good wake-up call for our guys. It was a good sign for us to win a game like that, but it wasn’t the full 60 (minutes) we want, so tonight was a much better effort.”
In the Brooks game, the Saints dominated the opening frame holding an early 9-1 shots-on-goal advantage, but came out of that period tied at one when they gave up a goal with less than one minute left to play. Asked if he was disappointed to control things to the extent they did, but still be tied, Stephen said, “We had some looks on the power play, maybe not as many as we obviously want and didn’t have the finish early in the game,” in regard to going 0-for-3 with an extra skater in the opening stanza. “It took us a little bit of time, I think, to understand how to create offence against these guys. We didn’t get as many shots in the last two periods but we were smarter in how we were putting pucks to the net.”
After Logan Ganie’s first period goal, Tanner Hickey put the Saints up for a second time, 2-1 in the second period, before Brooks tied things up and then took the lead in the third period for the first time. The Saints though refused to wilt under the Bandits’ pres-sure and got the tying goal from Hickey and then the game-winner on a great shot by Kris Bladen with 55.5 seconds left in the game for the win.
About that game-winner which was Bladen’s first goal of the year, he was passing credit off to the guys who passed him the puck for the winner.
“I just jumped into the rush and (Matthew) Rempe made an amazing play to get it to me,” off a defensive zone break-out pass from TJ Lloyd. “I had the easy job there!
“I knew the goalie was going to be down in his butterfly, so I knew I had to get it up a little bit to get it over him. That was my my thought there,” and was exactly what he did as the shot hit the middle of the net, up high.
Speaking to the strong showing against Brooks, following the shakier outing vs Calgary, Bladen noted, “We can build off this, especially after a game like Friday where we got out on a limb,” but still managed to find a way to post the win.
While players get geared up for big games like the one against Brooks, coaches also have some adrenaline pumping when the puck drops, and Stephen admitted he’s no dif-ferent. He’s a guy that likes the battle of wits between opposing coaches so the match-up with the bench boss of this year’s host to the RBC Cup, Brooks, was something spe-cial.
“It keeps everyone on their toes. It’s interesting because we played them late in the year twice last year and both teams have a lot more in play as far as structure and different ways of adjusting at that time. At this point, we only have half of what we’ll have at the end of the year so you have less options. So it comes down to the intangible parts of the game. And that’s what shone through for us late in the game.
“It’s interesting because it’s not always a chess match. It’s about a lot of the characteris-tics your team shows and then you complement that later in the year.”
While Stephen said a lot can be gained from both of these latest wins going forward, he maintained his credo of looking at the schedule one game at a time.
“It can if you take the confidence from over the weekend, take the positives and build on it. But it can also be dangerous to have that kind of success too early and you’re not playing with, and preparing with, enough urgency. With the post-week of this, we have to continue to push forward and not be complacent.”
The other Saints goals against the Mustangs came from Stanley Cooley (2) and Cam Mitchell. In the Whitecourt game, Dylan Bourlai, Ganie, Brent Trentham, Parker Saretsky and TJ Lloyd had the goals.
The Saints are on the road this coming week, playing Grande Prairie on Friday and then in Whitecourt on Saturday. They return home on Friday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
PHOTO BY DAVE ROSS