It’s a few minutes after 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night and the puck drops before 652 spectators at the Grant Fuhr Arena. The Spruce Grove Saints are putting their four game winning streak on the line as they welcome the Whitecourt Wolverines to fight for a crucial two points in the standings.
Their chances of extending the run to five is solid, as the Wolverines sit in seventh place in the eight-team AJHL North Division with nearly 20 points less than the mighty Saints.
But the Saints come out flat. Whitecourt scores just 33 seconds into the game, and open up a 3-1 lead by the second intermission. Spruce Grove was stymied 21 times by Wolverines goalie Pierce Dushenko, while their own goalie Matt Murray’s night ended just halfway through the second period after allowing three goals on nine shots.
“We did not play our game whatsoever in the first two periods,” said Saints forward Paul Lovsin. “We were losing battles, we weren’t competing.”
Coach Jason McKee took his spot at the front of the dressing room and prepared his speech to rile up the dejected team.
“It was rough, we didn’t execute well and we had no emotion,” McKee said. He challenged his players to be better as individuals and ultimately better as a group. They had 20 minutes for one last crack at redemption.
“The light turned on to start the third,” said McKee. “We started to play our game, we got our jump back and we continued to roll our lines wave after wave, which created energy.”
Brandon Biro scored 4:36 into the period to narrow the Saints’ deficit to one, but the Wolverines didn’t break. Spruce Grove stole the momentum, but still trailed with 11 minutes to go in the game.
It was a Wolverines penalty at 9:11 of the final frame that redefined the direction of the game. The Saints’ vigorous offence needed just 19 seconds to convert with the man advantage, tying the score at three.
Spruce Grove didn’t look back, scoring twice more in the next four minutes to open up a two-goal lead and eventually secure a 5-3 comeback victory over Whitecourt.
“Everybody stuck to their role and we worked hard for it,” said captain Parker MacKay. “The effort (in the third period) was the biggest part.”
Momentum from Wednesday’s win spilled into Saturday’s game against a tired Grande Prairie squad. Lovsin scored twice in the opening period and the relentless Saints offence scored three more times to open up a 5-0 lead over the Storm in 20 minutes.
“We’re a quick team, we’re tough and we move the puck well,” said Lovsin, who fits the team mould well. “I’m a smaller guy, I like to use my speed … and when the opportunity arises, I can put the puck in the net.”
After a brief detour in the opening minutes of the second, the rout continued. Grande Prairie pushed back to break the shutout early in the period, but their effort was suddenly derailed by eight straight penalties to close out the game.
“Our neutral zone on both sides of the puck was much better than it’s been in the past,” said McKee. “We created some turnovers which resulted in penalties, offensive chances and goals.”
The Saints would score five more times in the final 27 minutes to complete a 10-1 smashing of the Storm. Lovsin and Biro led the way with three points a-piece, while 13 Saints in total contributed at least a point.
“Our guys are pushing… We’re on a high, playing well and happy to be on this run,” said McKee of the six-game winning streak. “We’re going to try and keep it going as long as we can.”
The team’s next game on Wednesday in Lloydminster will be a tough test against a competent defence. The Saints stressed the importance of continuing to evolve their game.
“We’re winning, but in order to do that the right way there’s always things we can do to improve,” said McKay.
After the midweek matchup, the Saints return home on the weekend to face Fort McMurray on Saturday and Calgary on Sunday.
“Every team is going to bring their best game because they want to end the streak,” Lovsin said. “But we have a great structure, and combined with our skill and speed, not many teams can handle that.”