By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
After spending time away from the hockey rink over the holiday season the Spruce Grove Saints are eager to get back into action for a hectic homestretch in what has been a strong season so far. And as it turns out, the first two games of the New Year could well have major implications on how the rest of the year plays out.
The Saints, who lead the AJHL North Division by four points over the Grande Prairie Storm, open the post-Christmas part of their schedule with back-to-back games in GP this weekend. While important, the games aren’t a be all and end all, said Grove coach Jason Mckee.
“Obviously we’re looking forward to the challenge. We want to try and get as many points as possible down the stretch and obviously those two games are pretty important but if we don’t get the result we’re looking for, there’s a lot of season left. A split, or a sweep either way, I don’t think will determine the final outcome but it will be a big part of it.
“Obviously we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good spot as we move into the latter part of the season. With it being so tight, every game is going to be critical and we’re going to have to play extremely well to have success.”
The Saints may have let an important point slip away from them in their final game leading into the holiday break, when they dropped a 2-1 OT decision to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons despite out-shooting their guests 42-22.
While he didn’t find a gift wrapped goal scorer under his Christmas tree this year, Mckee said it would be nice to find such a guy. Unfortunately, he continued, this edition of the Saints doesn’t have one so they’re going to have to continue battling for goals and making the most of the chances they get, something they didn’t do in the recent loss.
“It definitely wouldn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” he said of having a constant scorer emerge from within his roster. “It was a different sort of game. The game lacked a little emotion at times. We had our opportunities; I don’t think it was from a lack of ability to score but I think it was just some poor decisions on that night of managing the puck in critical areas on the offensive side. I thought we did a real good job defensively. We put ourselves in some pretty good spots to score but we maybe made some poor decisions we would’ve liked to have back.”
Even though the Saints lead the parade in the North at this point they are far from being healthy. The troops have been battered through the first part of the year in the physical style of game featured in the AJHL North, and it shows in their roster each night as a few key components remain sidelined. But, the coach noted, others have stepped up when they need to in order to fill the void.
“It’s hard to say right now,” when this team will finally ice the lineup they’d like to have in place for the post-season, if not sooner. “We’re looking at the end of January to hopefully have everyone back but some of the injuries are long term, so we obviously don’t know exactly when we’re going to get guys back.
“But, as part of it I think we’ve done a good job of handling things and continuing to play well and when we get those guys back, it will only make us better.”
The Saints host McMurray on Weednesday at 7 p.m.