By Gord Montgomery
Dynasty is a word not often used in amateur sport where age plays a major factor in building a strong team, and winning, year after year.
Yet the Spruce Grove Saints are proving the exception to that rule as they captured the North Division title for the fifth consecutive year on the weekend, despite turning their roster over for essentially all but one of those years.
Dustin Fostveld, one of the veteran players on this year’s team that was by many picked to finish no better than third or fourth in the tough AJHL North, summed things up simply after a convincing, title-clinching 4-1 win over the Sherwood Park Crusaders by saying, “Losing is not an option here.”
Case in point – an unbelievable 229-60-5-9 won-lost-tie-overtime loss record in those five years where the Saints have not only rule the north but won the league championship twice as well.
Not bad for a team that continually turns players over because of age restriction or college commitments and that this year, came into the season with only nine veterans players in their lineup.
Oh, did we mention the injury bug that ran rampant through the Saints roster this year, making this year’s title even more improbable than it otherwise would have been.
So can you use the word dynasty here?
You better believe it, although the team’s head coach, Jason Mckee, who was an assistant coach when these glory years began, somewhat downplays that honour.
“I think it’s a sign of consistency which we’re all striving for as an organization and a team,” the bench boss said shortly after clinching North title Number 5.
“It’s a credit to the kids that have come through here. They’ve seen the culture, bought into the culture.”
As for the makeup of the dressing room as long as he’s been a Saint – four years – and even beyond that, Fostvelt said nothing much changes behind closed doors.
“I think it’s the same every year. It takes a lot of effort and character to be a Spruce Grove Saint and a lot of guys know what it means to wear that crest on your chest every night. We want to win every night, and we’re learning, but it’s working out pretty good for us.”
As mentioned already, few people outside the inner circle of the Saints believed what happened this year actually would happen. Third or fourth place, given the roster renovation, seemed legitimate and maybe, just maybe, even a little lofty.
Shows you what some of us know. It seems that in the dressing room there was little doubt they would prevail again this year as they have so often in the recent past.
“Losing is never an option in this organization,” Fostvelt echoed of a prevalent sentiment with the club. “We never go into a season just trying to rebuild. I think every year we bring in the right guys to get the job done and we did that this year and the coaches deserve a lot of credit for that.”
Mckee said when this year began he knew that the know-it-alls weren’t giving his team much hope in finishing first, or even in the top-3 for that matter. When his club ran into injury problems almost from the beginning, there was still no doubt, at least inside the room, how good this team was and would be.
“We wanted to finish as high as we could and I don’t think there were a lot of people picking us to win the North this year but internally we believed we could do it, worked to do it, and that’s Step 1 of the process.”
And that’s exactly how the coaches and the players are approaching this unexpected title.
“We’ll enjoy it for tonight and then get right back at it tomorrow,” Mckee ended about prepping his club for the playoff run where you can be sure, they’re on everyone’s top-2 radar once again.
In closing, and asked about that word rarely tossed around in age restricted sports, Fostvelt was eloquent in his response.
“You know ‘dynasty’ is a big word but at the same time we’re just trying to win every year and that’s always our goal,” and a goal they’ve accomplished, at least in the tough AJHL North Division, for the past five years.
Yes, that word fits this organization perfectly.