It’s been an eventful time for the Spruce Grove Saints the past two weeks. After starting their first losing streak of the season, coming courtesy of back-to-back losses against a surging Wolverines team out of Whitecourt, the Saints have climbed back with a 6-1 win over Drayton Valley and a thrilling 8-5 barnburner against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Saturday.
The wins, combined with a Lloydminster Bobcats loss to those very same Oil Barons, have pulled the Saints even with Lloydminster atop the AJHL North with 38 points.
The Saints also have two key returning players to look forward to in sophomore sensation Brandon Biro (injury) and 16-year-old defenceman Ian Mitchell. The latter will be back much sooner than the former as Biro is still a few weeks away, but both will feel like massive trade acquisitions head coach and general manager Jason McKee didn’t have to give anything up for.
Mitchell, who helped Canada White to a Gold Medal at the IIHF U-17s this past weekend while wearing an “A” on his chest, was nothing short of sensational. In a sea of Major Junior players, Mitchell excelled and was in the mix for best defenceman of the tournament. His puck moving abilities and decision making were on full display in the Gold Medal Game against Russia. On a third period power play, Mitchell walked the puck across the slot as casually as a person would walk their schnauzer, sucking over two Russian penalty killers. This left Owen Tippet open in the left circle, and Mitchell fed him a puck which Tippet wired in with authority for a hat trick and a 5-2 Canada White lead. Canada White went on to capture gold 6-2, and Mitchell finished with two assists. For the tournament, Mitchell was a point per game with seven in seven.
“He’s got all the tools to have success,” says Saints coach McKee on Mitchell.
“He skates well, he thinks the game well, he defends well, he moves the puck. He can affect the game in a lot of different ways, whether it’s with his brains, his hands or his feet.”
This week, the Saints will welcome back Mitchell for a trio of games. The Saints are on the road Tuesday in Olds to play the Grizzlys before returning home to host the Camrose Kodiaks Friday and the Okotoks Oilers on Sunday. A quick note about that Sunday game, it’s a matinee with puck drop set for 2 pm at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
Notes from the Broadcast Booth
-Defenceman Connor James has committed to an NCAA Division I school. He will be joining the University of Alabama Huntsville Chargers. The UAH Chargers play in the WCHA Conference. McKee on James: “A lot of people see him for his numbers…I believe the strength of his game is defending.”
-Liam Gregor is like found money for Spruce Grove. Picked up out of Junior B in Beaumont, the forward brings over 100 games of AJHL experience and in his first two games with the Saints this year has 4 goals, including a hat trick against Fort McMurray.
-After a quiet October offensively for Nicolas Correale, the Saints forward already has two points in two games in November.