The Spruce Grove Saints didn’t take too kindly to the Drayton Valley Thunder snapping their seven-game winning streak on Tues. Oct. 21, so they fired back with two wins and a combined 10-1 margin of victory last weekend.
“It was a tough loss, the details of our game weren’t great and we had to refocus,” said head coach Jason McKee on the 5-4 loss to the Thunder. Second-year player Colton Leiter went as far as to call the narrow loss a “rough patch.”
But that’s the way things are with the Saints. It doesn’t matter if they have won nine out of their past 10 games or have opened up a seven-point lead on first place in the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s North Division … a loss is a loss.
“It’s such a winning culture here and (coach McKee) always expects the best out of us,” said Leiter. “We never want to get too high or too low, just stay at a happy medium.”
If that’s the case, the Saints can be “moderately” happy with their rebound from the Drayton Valley game.
On Saturday night at home, they cruised to a 6-0 win over Grand Prairie, and followed it up with a convincing 4-1 win in Sherwood Park the next day.
“On Saturday night we had a favourable schedule because Grand Prairie had played the day before, and on Sunday, we had a some breaks on a couple goals, so that accounts for the separation,” said McKee. “It was closer than it looked on the score sheet.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that the team is finding success with a young roster that is still getting to know each other.
Nine new players have replaced valuable veterans departed from last year’s championship team, and are starting to form their own mould.
McKee insists the group that went to the finals last year are helping the younger players learn, and will be a valuable resource for the rookies as the games get more important.
“We had a tremendous turnover, but it’s opened up opportunities for young guys to come in and establish themselves, and they’ve done that,” said McKee. “We score by committee, defend well, spread things out and wear teams down as a five-man group.”
Matthew Murray notched the 15-save shutout on Friday night, while Brett Zarowny made 14 stops in Sunday’s win. McKee said both of his goalies have given the team a good chance to win every night.
Leiter meanwhile was asked to step out of his usual position at forward to skate as a defenceman for both games on the weekend because the team was short-staffed on the blue-line.
“He stepped back and played real well, he did a good job,” said McKee. “It’s never easy when you’re flip flopping.”
Leiter sees it as his role to play reliable hockey wherever the team needs him. He was up to the task over the weekend in notching two assists in Friday’s win.
The team’s power play found its form over the weekend coming off a cold streak, scoring twice in five chances while the penalty kill was perfect in six opportunities.
“It’s continuing evolving improvements that we try to make and we’re going to continue to tighten things up,” said McKee. “We talk a lot about practising with a purpose, and we’ll have to do that each day in order to get better.”
The team is in for a busy week with road games tonight (Oct. 31) and Saturday before returning back home to face Whitecourt at the to Grant Fuhr Arena on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Back to school
Rookie defenceman Jordan Thomas has committed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage next season to play NCAA Division 1 hockey.
“Jordan is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman that has really come in and helped solidify our back end so far this year,” said McKee in a press release. “As a first-year player, Jordan plays a lot of crucial minutes for us, and is developing nicely in the first couple months of the season.”
The 18-year-old has three goals and six assists for nine points and 18 penalty minutes throughout the first 18 games.