By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
It isn’t always about how you start a game but how you finish. And for the Spruce Grove Saints, their latest win was all about the finish.
Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Saints rallied for two late goals and left the Grant Fuhr Arena with a hard-fough, but well earned 4-3 victory over the Grande Prairie Storm, the club that’s hot on their heels in the AJHL standings.
“We didn’t start off very good and the goals against were a little disappointing, a little frustrating for us. They were results of breakdowns on our part where we made some poor decisions,” head coach Jason Mckee said after the game.
In fact, the Saints found themselves trailing 2-0 at one point but battled back on goals by Conner Hoekstra and Tim Nolte to tie it up before the Saints surrendered a power play goal with 18 seconds left in the middle frame.
Then came the comeback and it started when Dylan Richard out-battled the Storm’s goalie and two d-men to poke home a loose puck that was teetering on the goal line. Just under two minutes later, at 16:53, Dallas Smith scored the game-winner.
“It’s a good reward for the kids to recognize we had to get better. They did, did the work and they were rewarded for it.”
Brandon Hickey, a rookie d-man with the Saints said they overcame their slow start, and a goal against in the first 1:30 of the opening period by getting back to basics.
“We stuck to our plan, stuck together, kept pushing and it worked out in the end.”
He noted that the club has to come out for the start of games “with the right mental attitude,” to get away from the slow starts they have had of late. “We’ve got to take what we do in the second and third and bring it to the first.”
Hickey said this game was doubly important to win given the fact the Storm are chasing the Saints for first in the North, and have five games in hand.
“This win was important, for sure. With so many games up, when you get these wins those games in hand start to dwindle and the points start to spread out.”
A perfect week
Of their wins earlier in the week over Drayton Valley and then Bonnyville, Mckee said they were different but his team came out on the right end in both.
“I thought we played very well in Drayton Valley and competed hard. Full marks to the guys,” where Parker Mackay, Spencer Galbraith and Jarid Hauptman netted the goals in a game where Kenny Cameron got the win in goal stopping all but one of 30 shots.
“The game with Bonnyville, I thought we started off a little slow but got going toward the end of the (first) period and played a pretty decent game after. Bonnyville’s got a pretty good team. Nothing was coming easy but we found a way to win the game; the guys stayed the course and were rewarded for it.”
In that game, Mitch McNamara and Mackay had the regulation time goals for the Saints while captain Tim Nolte potted the winner on the power play halfway through the overtime session. Cameron again got the win in goal, improving his season’s record to 14-6-2 (wins-losses-ties).
As the holiday break nears, Mckee said his team is perhaps a bit worn down given the hectic schedule up to date, so they’re looking forward to some time off.
“There’s no question we’ve had a lot of games and a lot of guys in and out of the lineup for different reasons. Sometimes we haven’t had a full lineup. It could be catching up but that being said we’re into December and have some separation between games this month so we’ll use that to prepare for upcoming games and try to finish on a real good note headed into the Christmas break.”
As for the Grande Prairie win, Mckee noted it made up in a way for a loss to the Storm earlier this year when after tying the Storm late, his team gave up an even later goal to lose by one.
“It’s a long year and there are points you always look back on and wish you would have had thought you should have had. There are probably some you get you don’t deserve.”
On this night however, the Saints were full marks – for 40 minutes at least – for their win.
The club is away from home until Saturday, Dec. 15 when they host the Canmore Eagles at the Grant Fuhr Arena.