Top Shelf with Thomas Strangward – Sept 18

The Saints are in full swing and is it ever good to be back on the ice.

After a gruelling training camp, the Saints didn’t have to just start the season on the road, they had to start on the road with a back to back against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons before capping it off with a matchup against the Bonnyville Pontiacs.  So many questions still lingered at the start of last week’s road trip.

Will players step up to replace the scoring presence of Paul Lovsin, Parker Mackay and Jarid Hauptman?

Could Brandon Biro build on his impressive rookie season?

Can goaltenders Matthew Murray and Brett Zarowny continue to provide a steady 1A-1B goaltending tandem?

It’s still a long season, but heading into a pair of home games against the Calgary Canucks and Fort McMurray the answers are short and sweet:  yes, yes and yes.  The Saints went 3-0.

After three games, Biro and captain Tyler Busch are tied for the team lead (and 2nd in the AJHL) with 5 points each while steady support has been supplied by returning players Nicolas Correale and Riley Simpson (3 assists each) as well as ’95 Austin Hunter (2 goals). 

A fantastic team effort is pacing the special teams, with the Saints going 5/15 on the power-play (33.3%) and killing off all but one short-handed situation, finishing 11/12 (91.7%).  After the opening 3-0 and 2-1 wins in the Mac of the strength of the special teams, Head Coach and General Manager Jason McKee still felt the 5 on 5 play could have been improved.

“Our special teams played very well, but I still felt we needed some work on even-strength,” said McKee.  “We really focused on it in practice on Monday and it showed in Bonnyville.”

McKee is making reference to Game 3 of the road trip, an 8-3 Saints victory with a score sheet three miles long thanks to 11 combined goals and 150 combined penalty minutes. 

In the crease, there really wasn’t much of a surprise from the performances of Murray and Zarowny.  The two really owned the league last year and Coach McKee says having two goalies play at an exceptional level isn’t the worst problem to have.

“We have an expectation of both our guys…to come in and play well every night, and I think they have that experience,” said McKee.

Three games up, three games down, 6 points in the standings and 1st place in the Viterra AJHL North.

Not a bad start at all.