There’s good news and bad news for the Spruce Grove Saints this week.
The good is they lead the North Division.
The bad is the teams chasing them aren’t all that far behind and some of them have as many as six games in hand in which to catch, and pass, the division leaders. And while wins aren’t a given, especially this year in the AJHL, you’d have to think that by week’s end they may sink a bit. Maybe even a lot.
Head coach Jason Mckee noted there was no particular reason his club has played more games (29) than anyone else to this point in the season. In fact, they’ve played six more than the North’s second-place team Grande Prairie, who trail the Saints by a mere two points, 34-36.
“For whatever reason we ended up having more games in the front half than the back half, but not by design by any means,” Mckee commented about the strangeness of their schedule this season.
He agreed that this set-up could be beneficial toward the end of the season as his club gets more rest between games heading into the post-season but they’re paying for it now with a rash of injuries depleting the lineup on most nights, and a continual stream of games, thus the healthy guys are putting in overtime.
“We’re going to play less in the second half and it gives us more time to work on our game and then in the second half look at more details. Not playing every second or third night, I think, will help our team in the long run.”
As for the injury bug that has been a nemesis almost all year long, it’s one of those things hockey teams in a physical division have to deal with, the bench boss pointed out.
“We just can’t seem to get healthy. We get a guy back and then we seem to lose another one. There’s been no shortage of adversity this year with guys in and out of the lineup but it can only help us down the road.”
Injuries aside, the Saints won two of three home games last week beginning with a tough 3-2 loss to Bonnyville before shutting out Okotoks 5-0 and then grinding out a tough 2-1 win over the Calgary Mustangs in a physical game in Stony Plain.
“I thought it was good to get a win against both teams,” said Mckee. “Okotoks has a lot of firepower. Our goalie (Kenny Cameron stopped 27 shots) played well but I think our team played well, with I believe, six 16-year-olds in the lineup.
“The next night against the Mustangs, a physical team who have had some success as well, we were happy to come away with the win,” in a game dominated by the Calgary goaltender who was sharp in stopping 38 of 40 shots. Dustin Fostvelt scored the game winner halfway through the third on the power play. At one point, the Saints held a 22-4 edge in shots on goal.
Overall, Mckee was pleased his team gave up only one goal in 120 minutes of hockey over the last two games.
“It’s definitely getting better. I thought our special teams were better and obviously our 5-on-5 D-zone was consistent this weekend. I think we’re starting to grasp some concepts here and hopefully we can continue to get better.”
One thing that had to be touched on is how much the Saints affiliate players have contributed during this busy time, as they’ve filled in for the wounded.
“When they do come up they’re playing a lot and that’s a good thing,” Mckee said of the midget-aged call-ups. “They’re coming in and playing well for us and we’re real happy with the group of affiliates we have right now. We feel they’re able to step in and contribute this year and obviously those are guys we’re looking at for the future as well.”
And right now the future looks bright, if not as busy, for the Saints.
The club was in Lloydminster on Wednesday after press deadline and isn’t home again until Tuesday (Nov. 27) when they host Bonnyville at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
Two members of the Saints were mentioned in the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings. D-man Carson Soucy (who is out with a knee injury) and winger Douglas Morris both got the nod in the category known as C Skaters.