Spruce Grove gear­ing up for next chal­lenge

AJHL cham­pi­ons tak­ing aim at spot in RBC Cup

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - DEREK VAN DIEST dvandi­est@post­media.com

The Spruce Grove SPRUCE GROVE Saints did not have much time to savour their lat­est Al­berta Ju­nior Hockey League ti­tle be­fore fo­cus­ing on the next hur­dle.

Spruce Grove claimed their fifth AJHL cham­pi­onship since 2010 with a 3-2 vic­tory, on the road, against the Oko­toks Oil­ers on Fri­day, win­ning the best-of-seven se­ries 4-1.

The Saints were back on the ice Tues­day at the Grant Fuhr Arena to pre­pare for the Doyle Cup against the Bri­tish Columbia Hockey League cham­pion We­natchee Wild in a best-of-seven se­ries. The win­ner of the se­ries will rep­re­sent the Pa­cific at the RBC Cup Na­tional Ju­nior A Cham­pi­onship May 1220 in Chilli­wack, B.C.

“It kind of re­minds me of Ma­jor League Base­ball, where you win a se­ries then you’re par­ty­ing hard and then you win the next and you’re par­ty­ing hard, and then have to get re­fo­cused,” said Saints for­ward Chase Olsen. “We had a day to have some fun, and then the next day we went back to work, prep­ping and watch­ing video and stuff.

“We have a motto that you’re al­ways blue-headed, you’re never too high or too low, but you’re right in the mo­ment. We know this is one step­ping stone, but we see the big pic­ture in the end and that’s re­ally what you’re play­ing for.”

The Saints were 12-1 in the play­offs on their way to the AJHL cham­pi­onship. Their only loss came in Game 4 of the fi­nal against Oko­toks.

“There were a lot of close games that we won,” said Saints head coach Bram Stephen. “You kind of hope it’s not a law of av­er­ages, but our guys have come back from be­hind a few times and they just don’t quit. They stayed pretty re­lent­less, pretty calm and com­posed, and ex­e­cuted the game plan.”

Spruce Grove had to over­come a lot of ad­ver­sity both on and off the ice this sea­son on their way to the cham­pi­onship. They were af­fected by the Hum­boldt Bron­cos bus crash on April, 6, which claimed the lives of two for­mer team­mates, Con­ner Lukan and Parker Tobin, who were among the 16 ca­su­al­ties.

“This team had also gone through some things ear­lier on in the year with some of our play­ers and their fam­ily mem­bers,” Stephen said. “The group went all through it all to­gether and as the year went along, the com­mit­ment level, the in­ten­sity level and the de­tails seem to el­e­vate at a grad­ual level and the group was very clutch and con­sis­tent during their play­off run. We’re very proud of the ac­com­plish­ment, very proud to do that for our man­age­ment and own­er­ship group, they were very sup­port­ive of the play­ers, and we’re look­ing for­ward to try­ing to keep do­ing it.”

Game 1 of the Doyle Cup is Fri­day in We­natchee, Wash., with the sec­ond game the fol­low­ing night. If the teams split the first two games of the se­ries, they will play a third game in We­natchee be­fore re­turn­ing to Spruce Grove for the re­main­der of the se­ries. If ei­ther team sweeps the first two games, then the scene will shift to Spruce Grove for the re­main­der of the se­ries.

Our guys have come back from be­hind a few times and they just don’t quit. They stayed pretty re­lent­less, pretty calm and com­posed.

“I think we’ll be well-pre­pared for them,” said Saints for­ward Lo­gan Ganie. “We’ll watch a lot of video on them, and we’ll be ready to go when we get there.”

We­natchee de­feated the Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings 4-1 to win the BCHL cham­pi­onship, be­com­ing the first Amer­i­can-based fran­chise to win the ti­tle since the Belling­ham Blaz­ers in 1979.

“They’ve got a lot of re­ally good of­fen­sive play­ers, guys that have a lot of in­di­vid­ual skill that can take guys on one-on-one,” Stephen said. “They have four or five for­wards that are very dan­ger­ous and de­fence­men that move the puck well, as well. They have a big goalie and they’re go­ing to be a de­tailed-ori­en­tated team, maybe not quite the pace and phys­i­cal­ity Oko­toks was, but they’re go­ing to be bet­ter in sup­port and de­tails in the game.”

Un­for­tu­nately for the Saints, they will go into the se­ries with­out lead­ing scorer Chris Van Os- Shaw, who sus­tained a bro­ken fig­ure block­ing a shot in Game 3 against the Oil­ers.

Van Os-Shaw had 51 goals and 97 points this sea­son on his way to be­ing named the AJHL’s Most Valu­able Player.

“He’s an amaz­ing player, as ev­ery­body knows, and also an awesome guy off the ice,” Olsen said. “He still car­ries that pres­ence in the room, be­ing a great role model and push­ing us when we need to. Both the younger and older guys have to try and step up to fill his role, ev­ery­body is go­ing to have to do a lit­tle bit more.”


Spruce Grove Saints head coach Bram Stephen says he was im­pressed by the re­siliency his team showed in march­ing to the Al­berta Ju­nior Hockey League ti­tle. “The group went all through it to­gether ... We’re very proud of the ac­com­plish­ment,” Stephen says.

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