The game between the Spruce Grove Saints and the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (MOB) on Dec. 21 may not be remembered in years to come like the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, but in its own way it may be recalled as The Miraculous Comeback on Agrena Road.
Trailing 2-0 in a somewhat spotty two-plus periods of play, the Saints struck for two goals by Carson Samoridny and Corey Chorneyko just over a minute apart to set up an AJHL Christmas present for the largest crowd of the season as they pulled out a 3-2 shootout win.
The MOB, playing their third game in as many nights, looked good in the first period in taking a 1-0 lead but tired near the end. They built on that lead in the second going up by two but the Saints came out flying in the third, out-shooting the visitors who flagged noticeably 11-2 and tying things up. The five-minutes of free hockey that followed was wildly entertaining with end-to-end odd-man rushes for both sides and when it ended without any more scoring, the teams went to the showdown sequence to wrap up their pre-holiday schedules.
There, shooting first, the Saints Parker MacKay threw enough moves on MOB goalie Tanner Jaillet to have him totally on the wrong side of the net before scoring. In the Saints net, Kenny Cameron out-waited former Saint Kevin Miller to put his team up by one. The next shooter for each team, Samoridny for the Grove and another former Saint, Jetlan Houcher for the MOB were each stopped leaving it up to Dylan Hollman to put the finishing touches on this holiday classic-in-the-making. He made no mistake, going glove side on a backhand shot to give the Saints their second shootout win at home over the Barons this year and leave them leading that team by two points in the North and overall standings entering the break.
Afterwards outside a raucous Saints dressing room, Chorneyko, the team’s captain who has had a habit of scoring big goals this year, said the shaky start by his club was due to mainly one thing — nerves.
“We’re a young team and it was a playoff type game but as the game went on we started sticking with what we know works. Good on the guys for not quitting and finishing it off at the end,” he commented.
Assistant coach Michael Ringrose agreed that the first two periods were a little ragged for his troops on this night.
“We looked nervous, the first period especially. I thought we settled in in the second period and really, really started to play well in the third. It’s the first time a lot of our first-year guys have been in a situation like that. Obviously this game had been built up over the past couple of weeks. We’ve had it circled on our schedule. It was a big game for us and you need to learn to play in big games.”
Chorneyko gave full marks to the MOB for their spirited effort especially since they were at the end of one of those nightmarish AJHL road trips.
“They’re a good team. They play their systems and stuck to them. Obviously they’re a lot older than us and that helped them, but when we’ve got all four lines going we tend to wear teams out.”
In assessing the game style the MOB plays, one in which they use an unusual man-on-man system in the defensive zone, Ringrose agreed it took time for his team to figure that out.
“It’s tough and they do a great job of it. There’s not a lot of time and space and it’s hard to generate any kind of opportunity against them, so you’ve got to make the most of the ones you do get.”
About the tying goal that sparked his team and lit up the crowd, Chorneyko said that besides his strong defensive play this year he’s trying to chip in offensively when he can. Thus far he’s recorded five goals with one being a game-winner with at least two others being game-tying markers.
“I try to do everything as good as I can out there,” he explained about expanding his horizons in playing more at both ends of the ice. “I just want to add to our team, try to help out. I wasn’t waiting for someone else to do it,” and his shot through a crowd was enough to lift the fans out of their seats and his team onto eventual victory.
As for the OT win, their fourth this year, the captain said the Saints have lots of confidence going to extra time no matter who they’re playing given their scorers and goaltenders.
“Kenny’s been huge for our team (with a 23-4-1 record). Every time he’s in net we’re confident. We just play our game and everyone does their part and more often than not good things happen.”
Ringrose noted the skill the Saints have fits well in the three-on-three frantic extra period and the shootout format that the AJ uses to break ties.
“When you’re playing in that situation skill takes over,” he noted. “We’re confident when we get into those situations and Kenny’s been outstanding in those for us this year. When you have someone stand in there and you know you’re going to get a big save or two, it really helps motivate the bench. The makeup of our team allows us to have success in those situations.”
With the win, the Saints headed into the break on a good note and looking forward to the rest, said the captain.
“Now I can have a good Christmas break with my family. I can take my mind off the game for a couple of weeks, come back refreshed. It was a great win for the boys.”
That it was. Maybe not a Christmas classic but a great show all the same.
The Saints are off until the Jan. 4 weekend when they’re on the road in Brooks and Okotoks. They return home on Jan. 11 when they host the Olds Grizzlys.