By Gord Montgomery
Sports Editor, Spruce Grove Examiner
The best way to rebound after having a lengthy winning streak snapped is to start working on another and that’s exactly what the Spruce Grove Saints did last week.
The Saints put together the longest win streak in Canadian junior A hockey so far this year with 17 W’s in a row before running into a determined Sherwood Park Crusaders team in the sandwich game of a three-game week.
There they fell 3-1 in a contest that head coach Jason Mckee noted didn’t look too good the first time around.
“Watching the game the second time the next day though, we played a little better than I originally thought. We didn’t have a lot of puck luck that night but that being said, there was probably some games we got a little lucky in during the streak and over the course of a 60-game schedule, it all equals out.”
Mckee said the streak, the longest in Saints history since he’s been part of the organization as either an assistant or the head coach, is something the players should remember and be proud of.
“The message (afterwards) was one streak ended that night but we had an opportunity to get back at it the next day and the guys came back and responded very well. It was disheartening for them that it came to an end but they were able to bounce back the next night and play very well.
“Now in the AJHL, with the parity in our league and how strong it is, to win that many games in a row is very impressive. I give them full marks. The reality is you’re not going to win all your games but they’ve won some games in different ways and it’s a sign of the young guys coming together.”
What the young players take away from this run, especially since three of the Saints top guns were away at an international event, will do them and the team nothing but good in the future, the bench boss noted.
“I think it’s confidence more than anything,” he said of the lasting legacy of the streak. “The young guys played some bigger roles, were down in games and fought back. There were a lot of lessons learned through the process and that’s only going to make us better. In August I said the goal was to get better daily and I think we’re ahead of the curve, which is great.”
Prior to the loss, the Saints playing at home had dominated the Bonnyville Pontiacs to the tune of 7-1 and they then followed the loss up by thumping the Calgary Mustangs, again at home, by a 9-2 count.
About the nine-goal outburst, the most offence his club has had in a single game this year, Mckee said the coaching staff had a few comments prior to game time but in fact it was the players who stepped up after the loss.
“I think it was a little bit of both but more so the players. They were obviously disappointed after the loss. That’s what you want. They were clearly disheartened and I think the next day they got up and were able to bounce back with a great effort.”
That effort isn’t going unnoticed, both in the AJ and as it turns out, right across the country. From a team that was out of the national rankings only a short while ago, to now having climbed all the way to the No. 3 position in the country, they’ve made great strides thus far.
“I think coming in a lot of people viewed us as a young team, which we are, but that being said youth is not an excuse. Our league is 16 to 20 (year-olds) and if you’re good enough to play in it you’re good enough to get better and that’s what our focus has been throughout the last few years here.
“We expect our guys to play a certain way and do things a certain way and our guys are doing that. Our division is extremely tight, a lot of good teams with no easy games. It really prepares our guys that each and every night they know they have to play at a high level or we’re not going to have success and they’ve done a good job of that this year.”
With the one long winning streak ended, Mckee said you have to start somewhere on another one, so one victory in a row is a good thing and that will maybe lead to another run of consecutive wins.
“I hope so,” he laughed. “It’s always nice to get on a good streak and we’ll try to keep it going.”
The Saints are out of town this weekend with games in Bonnyville on Nov. 20 and then in Olds on Saturday, Nov. 23. Their next home game is on Saturday, Nov. 30 when they host the Whitecourt Wolverines in the back end of a home-and-home series.
Former Saints goalie Ben Scrivens, now with the LA Kings, was named as the NHL’s First Star of the Week ending Nov. 17. Taking over after an injury to Jonathan Quick, Scrivens, from the Grove, posted a 3-0-1 record last week, with a 0.66 GAA and a save percentage of .977.
So far this year he’s picked up three shutouts in eight starts.