By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
It was a losing weekend but not necessarily a lost weekend for the Spruce Grove Saints during a three-game road trip last week.
Despite suffering three setbacks in as many games, the Saints still earned two points thanks to losing twice in overtime, and held onto second place in the AJHL North.
The trip began with a 3-2 OT loss to the AJ’s worst team in Drumheller, followed by a 5-3 loss to the best team in the AJ, the Brooks Bandits. The Saints wrapped things up with another OT loss, this time by a 3-2 count in a shoot-out against the Calgary Canucks.
The thing about all three losses, assistant coach Michael Ringrose noted, is his club led in all the games at one time or another.
“I think you head it on the head when you said learning. It’s learning how to win is the way I think I’d describe it,” Ringrose said. “In the Brooks game we had an early lead and we pushed once they got the lead, which was good to see. In the Friday and Sunday games, we had the lead and we had it late,” before losing both in extra time.
“It’s not easy to win in this league,” the coach continued. “There are no freebies. The parity in this league is as good as I’ve ever seen it,” both as a coach and a former player.
“If you open the door even a little bit and things don’t fall your way. That’s a tough lesson for a young team to learn sometimes; we learned it the hard way this weekend. We got away from attention to detail late in games, we got away from our structure, and it cost us two points.”
Ringrose was quick to point out no one was under-estimating the opposition, it was just that the finishing touches weren’t there in the first and last game in particular.
“For 52 minutes in Drumheller we were as good as we’ve been this year. We took the foot off the pedal in the last eight minutes and it cost us. Against Calgary, they have a good goaltender, are difficult to score against and it was our third game in three days, but that being said we didn’t get the result we needed.”
Ringrose went on to say that goals in the AJHL are hard to come by and this team isn’t going to be one that scores a lot each and every night.
“The goaltending is so much better now than it was even three, four years ago. It’s a work in progress for us. We scored probably more than I expected early on and we’ve struggled to put the puck in the net in the last little while but some of that’s puck luck too. If the opportunities start to dry up then you’ve got a real cause for concern,” but since the chances are there for goals, there is no panic.
While the Saints had most of their regulars in the lineup for the first two games, they had a roster that mimicked an outdoor rink after school.
“We had four 16-year-olds defencemen on Sunday and three affiliates. They’re good players and there’s a reason we put them in that situation,” he said of the young guns skating against the Canucks. “Like I said, there’s never any excuses here and every time you put on the jersey, it needs to matter.
“We lost a little bit of focus late in that game and again, it ended up costing us.
“We were right there and had the opportunity to get two points and that’s what made it so disappointing.”
This weekend is another one on the road for the Saints, as they play twice in Fort McMurray and then in Grande Prairie on Tuesday before returning home next weekend. This sort of a schedule, with long stretches away from home isn’t a problem, Ringrose said.
“You just need to take it game by game. Sometimes it gets long when you’re on the road and don’t get home where you’re comfortable but at the same time, it’s never a bad thing to step outside your comfort zone in those arenas that are difficult to play in, especially early in the year with a young team. It’s a good opportunity, a good learning experience for them,” and this year, win or lose, is all about learning how to play at this level for the majority of the Saints roster.