Saints close in on North division leader
Sports are simple. You gain ground on the league leaders by beating them in head-to-head match-ups and that’s exactly what the Spruce Grove Saints did last week in taking four points from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (MOB) and the Whitecourt Wolverines.
The Saints started their week in what has become a somewhat familiar pattern, falling behind early before roaring back to post big wins. That was the case against the MOB as Parker Tobin gave up a marker five minutes in but his teammates responded as rookie Cam Mitchell potted a pair of goals 22 seconds apart and Chris Van Os-Shaw netted a late tally to put the Saints up 3-1 after one.
The MOB did narrow the gap to one in the second, but then the Saints ran over them from there on, out-scoring the league-leaders 5-0 to leave the ice with an impressive 7-2 win.
Speaking about his best offensive performance as a Saint, Mitchell noted it’s been a big step up from where he played last year, but he’s enjoying every minute.
“It’s been a huge jump, that’s for sure, especially going from playing minor midget to junior A, but a guy like (captain) Josh Harris,” has helped him adjust to the faster play and the bigger bodies the 150-pound winger is up against.
As for his two-goal performance, Mitchell downplayed it, saying, “Yeah, this was a huge win for us especially going up against Whitecourt tomorrow who have an 11-game winning streak.”
As for trying for his hat trick goal, Mitchell said those just don’t come easily to him, even with help from his teammates to reach that milestone.
“Yeah, they were trying,” he said of his line mates setting him up for the shot at his third of the night. “It seems like every time I get two goals I can never get that third one!”
His coach, Bram Stephen was effusive in his praise for how the 16-year-old has fit in thus far after not only this showing but his play so far this year. “It says a lot about the local minor hockey system here and he’s a special player, for sure.”
“We’re very fortunate to have him,” he said of the Stony Plain Minor Hockey product.
Stephen didn’t want to speak too much about the last time the Saints and the MOB met, a last-second 3-2 win by his club, instead focusing on the present.
“I thought we played a good game. I’m not one to look into the rearview mirror and the last time we played them,” he began about perhaps being better prepared for the latest win as opposed to the first one. “Our season plan as we get further down the line is to start to worry more about what the other team does and there were a couple of things we were paying attention to tonight, but we were just worrying about ourselves tonight, and I thought we had a fairly full 60 minute effort.”
Mitchell said he felt the Saints were ready for this showdown with the division leaders. Aside from giving up the game’s opening goal, that was in fact the case.
“I think we let off the gas pedal a little bit (in the previous game) and tonight I think we played pretty hard for the full 60 almost. We knew coming into tonight they were going to play hard and physical because they were probably mad we beat them last time with two seconds left, so we came in with the mentality of winning.”
On the offensive side of the puck, Stephen, who earlier had preached that his players needed to make better reads, noted he was pleased with what transpired in this game.
“I’m really satisfied with some of the reads we’re making to create … I mean, look at the one goal we scored, I think the sixth or seventh. Gourley (Jarrod) and (Sean) Comrie (who assisted on Austin Parmieter’s beauty) on the rush and are filling in the right spots, not being reckless. Just kind of the way the play worked out, where they’re covering the forwards, getting up in the rush. You look at (Tanner) Hickey’s read on that play and you look at some of the reads in the offensive zone. We’re becoming more dynamic while still being able to manage the puck. Those are things I’m happy with.”
The response by his team in allowing game’s first goal, which has happened in nine of the Saints first 24 games, was also crucial to this win, the coach continued.
“That was something I recognized even in exhibition — our guys don’t stop,” Stephen commented. “There’s a lot of character in that room and even when we weren’t playing well at the start, they were very hungry to stay in the games and they keep showing that.”
The Saints showed that the next night as well as they broke that lengthy 11-game streak by the Wolverines, downing them 4-1. The visitors dominated the affair outshooting their hosts 28-23 and were 1-for-3 on the power play while their penalty kill didn’t allow a goal in five short-handed situations.
In the first win, the other Saints goals came from Graeme Bryks with his first AJ marker, Hickey, Austin Parmiter and Liam Freeborn. In the Whitecourt win, the goals were scored by Van Os-Shaw, Bryks, Gourley and Seth Fyten into an empty net. Hayden Missler had the win in goal.
The Saints are in Lloydmister on Wednesday and then back in action at home on Saturday, Nov. 25 with they host the Grande Prairie Storm. Tickets for this game are only $5.
*Photo Credit Dave Ross