The Spruce Grove Saints don’t make excuses when they lose, even when they lose six in a row and even when their lineup looks more like a midget Triple A team than a junior club.
The fact of the matter though is while the Saints have dropped their last six games, two in overtime, they still remained in first place in the tough, and tight, AJHL North Division, although that lead has now shrunk to a paltry two points.
“I wish it was different but there are some long term injuries there and we just have to give them time to heal,” bench boss Jason Mckee said after another pair of losses on the weekend, 3-0 to Sherwood Park and then 3-2 to Fort McMurray, in OT, the next night.
“Hopefully, we’ll get some guys back here for the stretch run. We’re running out of time here a little bit but if we don’t get guys back now hopefully it will be for the playoffs, which is the most important part.
“We’re just in a situation where it’s one of those things that’s uncontrollable. Is it the reason we haven’t won lately? I don’t think you can ever pinpoint or blame it on injuries but has it been a factor? Probably. It’s affected us in a lot of different ways, even in practices where with 10 guys it’s hard to get better as a group.”
“No one in that room has given up. The belief is still there. All we need is a win to get us back on track and hopefully we get some bodies back towards the end of the month.”
One of the largest problems for the Saints of late is that the injuries have taken their top scoring forwards out of action for extended periods of time. Dillon Richard has been sidelined for several weeks now while Sammy Spurrell was hurt, came back, and got hurt again. Then, two recent additions to the club, Kevin Lacroix and Casey Knight, are both on the limp as well and defenceman Corey Chorneyko has just returned after a lengthy absence.
About that lack of scoring, Mckee feels special team play needs to be better especially the power play that as of late hasn’t been working at all. In this losing skid, the Saints have scored only twice on 28 power play chances and have given up eight goals in 26 short-handed situations.
Mckee said missing their top offensive players is a big reason for the lack of goal production but also agrees the whole team is in a slump.
“I thought last game against Fort Mac, especially in overtime, we had the better opportunities. That’s something we’ve been waiting for from this group, an opportunity for them to step up into a bigger role, a scoring role they maybe didn’t get a ton of opportunity at earlier in the year. We’ve been waiting for guys to grab that and it hasn’t happened a whole lot lately.
“Yeah, they’ve done a good job in their own end (defensively) and that comes first, but you’ve got to score a goal or two to win, too.”
As for the losing streak, Mckee said there’s no panic in the room.
“Like you said, we resemble a midget team. The guys know when we’re healthy, we’ve got a darn good club and I don’t think we’ll lose sight of that. As a group we’ve just got to find ways to win right now in tough times.
“We’ve got to find ways to win when we’re short. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that throughout the whole year. We haven’t had a full lineup all year. Since January, half of our lineup’s been out. It’s been tough to juggle but it’s a situation where we’ve learned to win when we’re short two or three. We just have to learn to win now with six or seven (missing).”
The thing is, the coach noted, they are still in first place so this is a very good hockey team when all the pieces are in place and everyone, he feels, has their struggles during a season.
“There are going to be highs and lows. It seems like forever ago we had a pretty good run. We have to solve this together and we’ll continue to work on this as a group. At the same time it’s a credit to the group for the good work early in the year to get themselves to this point. We’re in a battle for first place and I think at the start of the year, with the group we had, we would have taken that at this point.”
The Saints travelled to Drayton Valley on Tuesday night where the lack of offence reared its ugly head once again in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Thunder.
That marked the eighth time this year the Grove side has dropped a game in extra time.
The Saints are in Bonnyville tonight and then return home on Saturday (Feb. 9) to play host to Drayton Valley in a game beginning at 7 p.m. at the Grant Fuhr Arena.