By Gord Montgomery
Spruce Grove Examiner
A loss never sits well with a coach, especially one where you give away a late lead. That situation proved to maybe be a blessing in disguise for the Spruce Grove Saints, who since blowing a late lead a while back, have been on a roll of consistency and wins, as they continue to hold onto the top spot in the tough AJHL North Division.
Coming off that game against Bonnyville where the Saints blew a late 3-1 lead to lose 4-3, they’ve now gone four games in a row without losing playing more confident, better hockey. The reason?
They learned from the mistakes they made in that loss and have put them into play recently, picking up wins of 4-3 over Grande Prairie, 3-2 in OT against the same Bonnyville club, and this past week a 3-2 win in Whitecourt and a 3-0 blanking of the Camrose Kodiaks in their own barn.
“It was a good week for our hockey team,” head coach Jason McKee agreed. “I thought our compete level and our battle was very good over the weekend. We’re learning how hard it is to win on any given night and we’re starting to have some success.”
As for that earlier game they tanked, Mckee said his players learned quickly from the errors of their ways and have adjusted their games to better hold onto leads.
“I think there’s no perfection to it but there were some key things we didn’t do well in that Bonnyville game,” he began. “We went over it on video and did some things in practice to help us with those things, and so far, so good. Like I said, there’s no perfect recipe every time but if you put yourself in a good spot, you give yourself a good chance to finish games off.”
One guy who has started to finish games off is goaltender Kenny Cameron, who has played the majority of games over the past while and shown he’s ready for the limelight. The fact the coaching staff has stuck with one guy for the most part, this early in the season, is a rarity for them, Mckee agreed.
“It’s a little different than in the past but the difference is, Kenny’s playing extremely well with the exception of one off game there. I thought he’s been really good for us. He’s working hard in practices and the results are showing that.”
As for the backup, Nathan Parks, he isn’t a forgotten man.
“Nathan has done a good job and we’ll get him back in here before the Christmas break. Right now, Kenny’s the guy and he’s played well. We’ll get Nathan back in there and he’ll get his opportunities.”
Another key to the wins of late has been the play of the club in even-strength situations, particularly 5-on-5, the coach stated.
“Putting yourself in a good spot, not having to take bad penalties,” is a big reason for the lack of calls against the Saints, he pointed out.
“We’ve tried and done a good job of cutting out the unnecessary penalties in the offensive zone. The less time you’re short-handed, that gives you time on the power play or 5-on-5 and that gives you the best chance to win. We’ve made a pretty concerted effort to focus on those things and it’s been a difference maker.”
Speaking about the last two wins, Mckee feels both were of equal value for differing reasons.
“That’s a small rink in Whitecourt and they come at you hard. It’s not an easy rink to play in. We got down early but found a way to get back, take the lead, and like you said, protect the lead.
“Camrose was a tough game. We got home late (from Whitecourt) and had to go there the next night. They’d been off and were obviously ramped up for us coming in. I thought our guys really laid it on the line on the physical side,” and yet took only two minor penalties while Camrose took two.
“We were tired,” said Mckee, “but competed and found a way to have a great road win,” not to mention hanging onto a slim lead in both games from a lesson learned only a few games before, which pleased the bench boss.
“I was pretty proud of the effort of this group the last week; they’ve done a good job.”
Mckee and his staff hope that continues this weekend as the Saints are in Sherwood Park on Friday and then host Canmore on Saturday at the Grant Fuhr Arena in a game starting at 7 p.m.