By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
Young teams taking baby steps to find their footing, rather than large, leaping bounds, is the tried and true way to become better and that was again the case for the Spruce Saints last weekend. The Saints, who are in a massive rebuild this year after a number of highly successful seasons, earned a split of the two road games they played, with one more being played after press deadline in Fort McMurray on Tuesday evening.
Coach Jason Mckee continued to state he doesn’t mind losing as long as he’s getting the right effort from his troops and that was the message from the 3-2 loss on Friday to the Bonnyville Pontiacs, the North Division’s best team right now.
“We probably deserved better Friday but we got our reward Saturday,” Mckee said of coming back the next night with a 5-3 win over the Sherwood Park Crusaders who were on a five-game unbeaten streak entering that contest, Of the split, Mckee said, “The whole weekend was a good test. I thought we played two of the top teams in the North.”
In the first game the Saints fell behind 2-0 before four minutes had gone by in the opening period but then righted the ship to battle back on goals by Dylan Richard and Dylan Hollman before surrendering the winning goal in the third period.
The Grove coach felt his team carried the play and had better scoring chances but “mis-executed one play. We missed a pass. I think we made the right decision but just missed a pass that ended up in the wrong spot,” and Bonnyville, being the veteran squad they are, took advantage of that error.
“At the end of the day I thought we deserved better but we can live with losses as long as the compete level’s there,” the bench boss said in echoing a sentiment already used extensively this year.
“From the 10-minute mark on I thought we played really well,” Mckee said of his team turning things around from the shaky beginning. “We hit some posts and crossbars in the third and had a goal disallowed, which was tough for the kids.
“For the most part, I thought we did a lot of good things in the second half of the Bonnyville game and carried those over to the Sherwood Park game.”
There, the Saints had a huge effort from everyone in earning what was a tough road win. The Cru took a one-goal lead but the Saints then stuck for four consecutive markers starting late in the first period and through the second.
The Park scored late in the second to pull within two, 4-2, with the teams trading goals in the final period leaving the Saints the winners at 5-3. Goals came from Dallas Smith, Liam McNamara (2), Hollman and Doug Morris.
This win in particular pointed to good things ahead for the Saints in their ability to rebound from a tough loss the night before, Mckee agreed.
“We played two veteran teams with a lot of returning guys. We got back late after laying it on the line in Bonnyville and I give the guys a ton of credit, they were able to recharge quickly and play another team that had a very good start.
“We were able to come out with some energy and play a real complete game.”
Of his team’s four-goal run in the Park, Mckee likely isn’t holding his breath about that sort of thing happening on a game-in and game-out basis.
“It was definitely a good sign, that’s for sure,” he began. “The goals we scored were good, hard-working goals. I think we had a string of bad luck around the net for a couple of weeks. We got a lucky one early in that Sherwood Park game to kind of get that evened out a bit, I guess. We got pucks to the net and won some races to loose pucks which was the biggest thing, and created some offence off of that.
“We’re a team I think that will score by committee. We’re not the ’87 Oilers. We’re a team that will create a little bit off the rush but a lot off the cycle and winning some battles down low. Just some hard-working goals, for sure.”
The Saints are back in action at home twice this weekend, first with a Saturday start against the Whitecourt Wolverines at 7 p.m. and then Sunday afternoon, at 2:30 p.m. against the Drayton Valley Thunder. Both contests go at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
On Tuesday, the Saints scored four unanswered goals in the third period to beat Fort McMurray 7-5.