Saints defeat rival Bandits

The Spruce Grove Saints beat the Brooks Bandits 7-6, fighting for every goal and extending their hot streak to 15 straight games, defeating the top team in the AJHL’s South Division, on Nov. 9 at the Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove

Onlookers must have, at some point, held their breath. The game was full of excitement and plenty of tense moments for hopeful fans.

“We started great and played really well,” said the Saints’ interim head coach Michael Ringrose of the high-scoring first period that gave the Saints an early jump on the game.

The Saints scored two quick goals off the top as Tyler Robertson punched through the five-hole on a two-on-one break away, followed shortly by Connor Hoekstra’s shot from the point, giving the home team an early lead, and early momentum.

Carson Samoridny, Saints forward, later made a one-timer from the slot on a power play, and the Saints wrapped up the first with a 3-1 lead.

“We started the game exactly how we wanted to. We came out and worked hard. We got pucks in the net and played a simple game,” said Samoridny, a 19-year-old player from St. Albert.

“There’s history between these two teams,” Ringrose said referencing the Saints’ loss to the Bandits in the 2013 AJHL finals in five games.

“Obviously the game mattered … but I thought we got away from our game plan. (The Bandits are) a great team and they’ve got a lot of skill. If you give them an inch they’ll take a mile,” he said commenting on the shift in game play between the second and third periods.

The night was riddled with penalties that spoke to the teams’ history and lack of key players, Ringrose said. The Saints have played without several main players who have been in Nova Scotia for the World Junior A Championships.

“Both teams were playing a little bit short and guys were fatigued. When they’re tired, they’ll hook, hold and take penalties. That’s when you get yourself into trouble defensively,” Ringrose said.

Despite scoring two more goals in the second thanks to Connor James and Colton Leiter, the Saints were headed to defensive trouble, losing ground as the following five goals went to the Bandits by the middle of the third.

With the game tied up early in the third, the Saints’ game took a turn for the worse as the Bandits took the lead for the first time all night, with only six minutes remaining.

“We gave up some momentum,” said Samoridny, “We laid off the gas pedal a bit and that carried over where they tied it up and went ahead.”

Not willing to let go, the Saints evened the score to 6-6 as Macklin Pichonsky, assisted by Leiter and Hoekstra, tied it up. The guys maintained a tied game for the remaining five minutes and through a tense, overtime period.

“Our character showed through there when we got a goal with five minutes left. It just shows how we’re willing to battle for each one,” Samoridny said.

And battle they did, but overtime didn’t settle the score.

Samoridny put the first shootout puck in the top right corner of the Bandits’ net and Parker Mackay sealed the deal; the Bandits did not make one shootout goal.

A number of Saints’ players have had the opportunity to see more ice time, due to their teammates’ absence, said Ringrose.

“In terms of development, we saw it last year too, when we lost some key guys at this time of the year and other guys stepped up. It helps push them to the next level and shows them they can do it.”

Despite playing short, the team’s 15-game winning streak indicates the passion and drive of the whole team, he added.

“It’s a credit to our young guys who are really taking the bull by the horns and seizing the opportunity.”

Ringrose remains focused on implementing a game-by-game mentality and recognized the temptation players may feel after so many wins.

“It’s difficult mentally when things are going so well to continue to push yourself to get better. That’s the battle. You get on a roll and things are going well, but you forget why. You lose focus on the process and start to feel like the outcome is going to take care of itself. That’s the demon that you’re fighting all the time.

“It’s the battle in your head that you’re trying to win, but for the most part, we’re pretty grounded and still playing hard.”