Rough start to new season…

By Gord Montgomery
Sports Editor
Spruce Grove Examiner

There is no panic in Saintsville right now even after a 0-2 start to the 2013-14 season, but then again there aren’t many, if any, smiling faces either.
The Saints, who posted the best pre-season record in the AJHL found out that exhibition games and the real thing are miles apart as they fell 3-2 and 4-0 in back-to-back games with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (MOB) last weekend.
Coach Jason Mckee said he felt his team played well for the first half of the first game but that was about it, as they were out-scored 6-0 from that point on in dropping both games. He wasn’t using age as an excuse even though he is leading quite a young team into battle this year. Rather, he used the term “poor decisions” a number of times in explaining what transpired.
“We hurt ourselves in the second part of that first game. We made some poor decisions and they’re (MOB) a very good team,” said Mckee. “They’re a team with a lot of returning guys and they made us pay that night.
“Saturday night, I didn’t think we played as well. We were hanging on a little bit. It was 1-0 going into the third and their goalie made some key saves and then they got a couple more … for the most part I liked what I saw but there are two or three things in our game that really hurt us.”
Dylan Hollman was the only Saint to find the back of the MOB net in either game, boosting his team to a 2-0 lead in Game 1, but it was a lead they couldn’t hold.
The Oil Barons cut the margin to 2-1 after 40 minutes and then put it away with two unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes. While the Saints managed to fire off 33 shots on goal in that first game, they were held to less than half that many, 16,  in the second game including a measly two in the opening frame.
As always, Mckee is taking a calm approach to the early part of a new season. He’s not getting too high about anything nor too low, which would most likely be the case after two straight losses.
“It’s way too early for that,” Mckee commented about anyone suffering any early season panic. “Any time you’re panicking you’re not in a great spot and as a coach I like our group. It’s just going to take some time. I don’t think we made mistakes because of youth. I think we made mistakes because of poor decisions.”
Mckee expounded on what he felt went wrong.
“I think the biggest thing is just managing the puck at certain times in the game. When you’re tired, it’s important to make real good decisions and I thought on a few of those goals we made poor decisions and it resulted in goals for them. It’s early in the year and those things are going to happen and you need to minimize them. I just thought on the weekend we made crucial errors at crucial times.
“Those are things where we know better and we’ll definitely improve in those areas.”
In review, the bench boss said the big lesson learned from the weekend was a simple one — games that count in the standings are far different from ones that are played to pick a team.
“I think a lot of guys realized that the time and space from exhibition to regular season is substantially smaller. I think we have to learn to create offence in a smaller time frame. They have to make decisions quicker but that being said, sometimes I think they have a little more time than they think but it’s part of the process. We knew that going in and we’ll get better as it goes.
“Were we happy with the result? We’re not but there were some good things the kids did as well.”
As to who played well in the games, Mckee said Hollman was solid both nights as was veteran forward Parker MacKay. Also drawing nods of approval were Caleb Belter and 16-year-old defenceman Connor James.
“Those guys played really well. Connor has the ability to step in and be a difference maker for us.”
The Saints are at home for two games this weekend, with the first tonight against the Drayton Valley Thunder. They then host the Grande Prairie Storm on Saturday. Both games begin at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
Twitter: @gord_RepEx1