By Gord Montgomery
This year when it comes to scoring goals for the Spruce Grove Saints it appears to be not so much a case of how many? but rather a case of how? Those queries were especially true in their last two games a 2-1 loss to the Whitecourt Wolverines and a 6-1 win over the Olds Grizzlies.
In those contests the Saints outshot the other side by a combined 74-13 count but only managed the one win. And it’s not like several of those shots taken by the Saints, especially against Olds, weren’t A-1 opportunities. Following the win on home ice, assistant coach Derek Martin agreed the chances have definitely been there … but the scoring touch often hasn’t which even for the most upbeat team can be frustrating.
“I think it’s easy to get frustrated as a player but as coaches we went into the dressing room and spoke about our ability to spread the zone and when we’re able to do that you see us being able to create offence,” he pointed out in reply to his club dominating the first period of the Olds’ game, out-shooting the visitors 14-5, but only holding a 1-0 lead.
“Yeah, we’ve got some guys that have been snakebitten but you have to believe at a certain point they break the handcuffs off and start generating some more offence,” the coach continued.
While the Saints eventually did kick things into overdrive and run the Grizzlies out of the rink with two in the second and three in the third, Dylan Bourlai, who scored the winning goal but had missed a close-in opportunity early in the first, said staying patient is a key to finally finding the back of the net.
While the Saints had seven power play chances in the game it actually looked for much of this game like they had an extra skater at all times. Speaking to the chances, but not being about to score as many as they’d like, Bourlai noted, “Obviously there’s been some games where we can’t bury those first couple of chances but I think we keep pushing. The boys battled hard all night and the bounces started coming our way and we started burying them.”
While the focus in the interview with Martin was mainly about scoring, he was quick to point out the Saints have been doing an outstanding job of keeping opponents off the scoresheet. Besides the two games mentioned, the Saints also beat Grande Prairie 5-1 in their another game, prior to wrapping the week up against Sherwood Park.
What the Saints coaching staff took from the latest win, besides the two points, reflected the defensive effort the Saints put forth in the game.
“We were really proud of our group’s efforts on both sides of the puck tonight,” with the only Olds goal coming during the dying stages of the third, when on the power play a Saints d-man caught an edge as he went to play the puck, allowing Ty Budai to beat netminder Liam McCloskey on a breakaway chance. “It’s nice to see when we’ve got guys who are typically known to be offensive players and not generating that offence but still contributing to the team in a positive way on the defensive side of the puck. It’s a real positive and something we can be proud of.”
Another area the Saints have struggled with this year is the power play. While they scored three times with an extra skater, two of the three came with the game basically out of reach. Besides Bourlai, goals came from Parker Saretsky (2), Bruce MacGregor with his first as a Saint, and Brent Schuldhaus.
“Once we started burying the puck it gave the boys confidence on the bench. We start working a a team, got our legs going, got energized on the bench and we’re hard to stop when we’re ready to go,” noted Bourlai.
Commented Martin: “Slowly but surely,” he replied in a question regarding the success/lack of the same with the extra skater. “We’re working through some things and I think we’re starting to see some things. We had some looks in Whitecourt but couldn’t bury anything. Tonight we wanted to be real good on special teams and we were able to score a couple. Hopefully it carries over going forward.”