By Gord Montgomery
It may be too early to get too excited about wins and losses, but the start for the Spruce Grove Saints to a new hockey season shows that good things may very well be on tap again this year.
The Saints took part in a four-team tournament in Camrose from Aug. 27 – 29 and came away with wins in all three games they played, downing Drayton Valley and Sherwood Park by identical 3-2 counts and then upending the host Kodiaks 6-0 in the finale.
The Saints bench boss, Jason McKee, who has guided the club to the AJHL championship in the past two seasons, agreed he wasn’t going to start ordering up championship rings quite yet, but he was more than pleased with what he saw over the weekend.
“You never know how it’s going to go,” he began about the first taste of AJ action for many of the first-year players he had suited up on all three nights. “We played extremely hard; we played as good as we’ve ever played in my years here and we saw a lot of good things in all three games.”
His praise of the club’s efforts wasn’t just one dimensional either. McKee noted every player was diligent in chasing loose pucks, winning battles and doing what was needed to put the W’s on the board.
“We were very happy with the way those games went and we have some very difficult decisions to make this coming week.”
The best news for the Saints may be the fact that the coaching staff didn’t overload the pre-season rosters with veteran players. “We had, on average, probably five or six returning guys each night. We have some real good young players here,” the coach said about his lineups.
In looking back at how his club played, McKee commented, “What I liked about the weekend, the games were a real good evaluation for us. The teams we played were good. There were no easy games by any means.”
While he still has a locker room packed to the brim with returning players and hopeful rookies, 36 in all, McKee said he doesn’t want to start naming names quite yet as to who shone in the recent action.
“It’s a little early. There are definitely some guys who made good impressions, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve still got a week and a half here (of training camp), and four games. There’s a lot of decisions to be made over the next four or five days. They’ll be some real tough ones, but we’ll have a better idea after the next four games where the guys are at.”
The club’s roster must be pared down to 25 players by the start of the regular season (Sept. 18) but McKee said, “We’ll probably pick our (final) team by Friday (Sept. 4), meaning those making the grade have the chance to play three exhibition games with new line mates in order to get comfortable for when things start for real on Sept. 11.
In closing, McKee said that the new guys hoping to join the team have shown great promise thus far. There are some big shoes, er skates, to fill due to graduated players leaving the system but the rookies have been impressive to date.
“We’ve got some (19) ‘97s and ‘98s (who have caught his attention) and a real good crop of ‘99s. Like I said, it’s a tough part of the job. There are some real good guys doing some real good things. Some of the ‘97s, we knew something about them coming in, but they exceeded our expectations which makes things more cloudy and even tougher (for making cuts).
“I guess that’s what you want at this time of year but it sure doesn’t make things any easier. We’re looking forward to watching the next four games. We’ll have some tough decisions to make after that.”
The Saints were in action Monday evening in Sherwood Park and they hit the ice for the first time at home at the Grant Fuhr Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 1 vs Whitecourt and then again on Friday, Sept. 4 against the Sherwood Park Crusaders.