By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
If the latest game for the Spruce Grove Saints was a sandwich, it was the middle part of the snack you’d admire the most. As for the beginning and end, or the bread that surrounded the middle, you’d be tossing those pieces back suggesting it wasn’t palatable.
The Saints, coming off a six-day layoff after a road win over the Lloydminster Bobcats, looked like they were quite enjoying what they found in the middle of their latest game. As for the outsides, well, that was a different story.
The Saints looked almost certain to be taking another win to the bank as they held a 3-1 lead over the Bonnyville Pontiacs late into the third period.
Then, as they dressed up that sandwich, they spilled the mustard.
Bonnyville scored two late goals, one with 2:48 remaining and then sent the game into extra time with but nine ticks left on the clock, and their goaltender on the bench, on their way to beating the Saints 4-3. The win was the third for the Pontiacs over the Saints this season in as many contests.
“That was unacceptable. Unacceptable,” said assistant coach Michael Ringrose, outside a deathly quiet Saints dressing room after the club had been thoroughly dressed down by bench boss Jason Mckee.
“All the way through the lineup we weren’t good enough when it mattered the most tonight and it cost us two points.”
As for the late collapse, Ringrose indicated the Saints eased up thinking they had the game won with what appeared to be a comfortable two-goal lead.
That lead though was gone as quickly as a sandwich left unattended in a city park full of hungry crows looking for a meal.
“I don’t know if it’s a case of them thinking they can take their foot off the pedal, which you can’t do in this league, or if it was just a situation where we lost some battles that we need to win if we’re going to be a team that is competing for the lead in the North Division. It was a tough pill to swallow tonight, for sure,” Ringrose stated.
The Saints’ start to the game pretty much matched the end, as they were out-shot 6-0 through the early going but still found themselves on even terms with the Pontiacs. After that, the club righted itself and played well for the majority of the game.
“I thought from about the five minute mark to the 55 minute mark we were pretty good,” Ringrose pointed out, as the Saints built their lead on two goals by Dallas Smith and the other from Spencer Galbraith, a recent addition to the club from the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricane.
“We just didn’t start very well and we didn’t finish very well. But no excuses,” the coach continued. “In a situation like this, your enthusiasm, your adrenaline, is supposed to carry you through the first five minutes.
“I thought we responded well after that first five where we weren’t very good. I thought we were very good until late when we took our foot off the pedal.”
That was when things fell apart for the Saints, who were simply out-worked and out-hustled as Bonnyville clawed their way back to within one goal, then potted the equalizer in the dying seconds on a blast from the point.
Ringrose suggested the visitors “are a chippy team in the sense they get after it. They compete, they battle and they play hard between the whistles,” and the Saints are going to have to be ready to step up to the same level for the entire game when the clubs square off again on Sunday afternoon in the Grove.
This sort of battle, Ringrose said in wrapping up, is akin to what fans expect to see as the hockey season draws to a close.
“What you saw tonight was a playoff calibre hockey game – two teams going at it. Both sides were engaging in stuff you’d usually see in a playoff game – little jabs after the whistle, a little bit of stick work and that’s a good thing, especially for us as a staff. It allows us to evaluate our players, see where we need to be going forward.”
The thing the coaching staff didn’t like was seeing that two-goal lead disappear and then the hopes of two points follow quickly behind with the winning goal hitting the twine on Bonnyville’s first shot in overtime 1:05 in.
The Saints are back in action against the Pontiacs on Sunday at 2 p.m. and they then host the Grande Prairie Storm on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. Both games are at the Grant Fuhr Arena in the Grove.