By Terry Martin
The Saints and Brooks finally faced off in the AJHL finals for the 2nd time in as many full seasons, where the Bandits took the championship back in 2019. The Spruce Grove Saints journey to this final has seen two series sweeps of both the Whitecourt Wolverines and the Drayton Valley Thunder. The Brooks Bandits have also made it to the finals by way of sweeps, winning 4 games in a row against the Canmore Eagles and the Okotoks Oilers. Both teams had also received a 1st round bye to the 2nd round after finishing at the top of their respective divisions. Both teams will also look to claim their 6th AJHL championship as each have 5 of their own. During the regular season the Saints won 1 game against Brooks while just being outscored 12-15 in the 3 games played.
The Saints and Bandits would battle back and forth throughout the 1st 10 minutes, and Tristan Martin would make some huge saves to keep the game tied 0-0. At the 9-minute mark Luigi Benincasa would come down the hashmark and fire the puck glove side to opening the scoring in the AJHL Final. A few minutes later Ryan McAllister would score glove side as well for the Bandits to tie the game 1-1. Health Armstrong would then score for the Bandits with 1 minute left in the period. The Saints would trail 2-1 on the scoreboard and 9-16 on the shot clock after 20 minutes of play.
The Saints would jump out to a fast start as Jayden Davis would score a shorthanded breakaway goal in the early minutes of the period. Just 26 seconds later TJ Hughes would score to give the lead back to the Bandits. Ewan McPherson would then fire the puck glove side to tie the game back up 3-3. Just moments later Hunter Brown would give the lead back to the Saints off a partial break. Liam Watkins then finds himself behind the Bandits d-men firing the puck through Ethan Barwick to give the Saints the 5-3 lead. Caden Cabana would then score the Saints 2nd shorthanded goal of the game to put the team up 6-3 with 8 minutes remaining in the period. The Saints would end the period in the lead but would just narrowly trail in shots 21-23.
Through the 1st 10 minutes of the 3rd period the Saints would have to hold off the Bandits push to get back into the game, paired with a few huge saves from Tristan Martin, Spruce Grove would preserve the lead. The Saints would continue to hold off the attack from the Bandits all throughout the rest of the period, Logan Acheson would even add a power play goal late in the period after tipping in a point shot. The Saints would go on to win game one 7-3, handing the Bandits their 1st loss of this postseason. Spruce Grove would also edge out Brooks in shots, 31-30 after 60 minutes of play.
The Saints and Bandits will do it all over again on Saturday back in Brooks for game 2 at 7pm.