The St. Albert Steel played their best and worst hockey of the season during last weekend’s rollercoaster performance.
Friday in Bonnyville against the team that beat them up 8-1 recently on St. Albert ice, the Steel overpowered the Pontiacs 4-1 minus three of their strongest forwards, including Dan Carr, the recently traded all-star left winger and NHL draft prospect. Steel rookie Chris Sharkey stopped 27 shots and was backed offensively by goal scorers Tyler Porteous (penalty shot), Bryce Williamson, David Carr and Taylor Fraser (empty net).
“That was probably our best effort of the year. The reason we won the game is everyone kept it simple. We didn’t take any chances. We weren’t selfish,” said Greg Parks, head coach and general manager of the sixth-place 16-18-1-3 Steel. “When we get selfish and think it’s going to be easy, we don’t have success.”
After looking like a team to fear, the Steel lacked the will to win Sunday with a shocking 6-5 loss against the last-place Drayton Valley Thunder (9-26-2-2) at Performance Arena.
“That win [in Bonnyville] doesn’t really mean much when we come in here and stink the joint out,” said assistant captain Alex Perkins. “It’s tough. No one is harder on us than ourselves. It’s definitely frustrating.”
The Steel fell behind 6-0 after two periods while outshot 33-16. The overall shot count was 43-32 for the lowest scoring team (2.3 goals per game average) in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“We didn’t keep it simple. We were selfish as a group. We thought it would be easy and maybe a little bit of a point night for some guys. We basically got away from what made us successful in Bonnyville,” Parks said. “We know as a team we’re going to score goals, no matter what. All we have to do is take care of our own end.”
In the first period the Thunder struck three times on their first 10 shots against Sharkey (6-5-1, 4.12 GAA). After the third goal at 13:25, Parks called a time out and gave his team an earful.
In period two the Thunder tallied twice on the power play and with 9:40 left in the period made it 6-0 on their 25th shot.
“We didn’t come out ready to play today at all. We rallied in the third, and probably played 10 minutes of 60 minutes of the game, but it definitely wasn’t a good enough effort and that’s unacceptable for sure,” Perkins said. “We come to the rink today not focused and not prepared to put in the work and it showed on the scoreboard obviously for the first 50 minutes. If we’re not ready to work we’re not going to have success.”
The first of two goals by Reed Linaker on the Steel’s 18th shot of the game came at 5:49 of the third. They gradually chipped away at the deficit with goals by Perkins on a penalty shot at 8:32, Linaker’s 21st at 15:18, Fraser’s ninth at 19:19 and Williamson’s team-leading 26th at 19:33.
“Yeah, it was a little bit of a moral victory scoring those goals like that, but it really wasn’t close at all. They were much better than us for the majority of the game,” Parks said. “We scored five goals in 15 minutes and that just goes hand in hand with what we’ve been saying all year. If we take care of our own end we’ll be in every hockey game we play. Chris Sharkey wasn’t on top of his game and I think he’ll be the first one to admit it but we didn’t do him any favours either. We put him in a lot of bad situations.”
With Sharkey pulled for the extra attacker the Steel had chances to tie it up but couldn’t cash them in against Jeff Holloway to complete the comeback. Holloway was peppered with 16 shots in the third. A couple of whistles by referee Derek Zaleski also aided the Thunder netminder.
“I thought the reffing was real questionable but it’s certainly not why we lost the game,” Parks said. “The net was coming off all night long. He warned them with two minutes left and it took him 58 minutes to figure out the goaltender was knocking the net off? It was happening in only one end, whatever end their goalie was in.”
The play of the game was Perkins’ second penalty shot marker in two years as he lit up Holloway for his fourth goal in three games and his ninth this season.
“I’m lucky on penalty shots, I guess,” said Perkins, who is 2-for-2 in the shooter versus goalie showdown.
The 20-year-old sat out the win against Bonnyville (21-17-2) while serving a one game suspension as a result of being assessed his third instigator penalty of the season, which came in last Wednesday’s 7-1 drubbing by the first-place Spruce Grove Saints (34-3-1-3) at Grant Fuhr Arena. The feisty left-winger is on a short leash now when it comes to inflicting his physicality on opposing players with his fists.
“Obviously I’ve got to watch what I do out there a little bit more now that I’ve got that first suspension. The length of the suspension will keep going up and up now,” said Perkins, who has racked up 79 penalty minutes in only 24 games. “It’s definitely something I’ve got to keep in the back of my mind but I don’t think I’m going to change the way I play at all because of something like that. If I’m going to play with Bryce and Reed on the top line I’ve got to look out for them and I don’t mind doing that whatsoever.”
Despite missing several games because of injuries and an early season suspension, Perkins is on pace to surpass his season-high of 16 goals and 29 points in 61 games in 2008/09. His current five game point streak includes five goals and two assists.
“There is a lot more perks to the job playing with guys like Bryce and Reed. I get a lot of chances and the offensive numbers are going up so,” said the Steel’s fifth leading scorer with 20 points.
ICE CHIPS: The last Steel game before the Christmas break was Tuesday at home against the third-place Fort McMurray Oil Barons (26-12-1-2). The score was unavailable at press time.
The Steel resume league play Jan. 2 and 3 at Fort McMurray. Their first home game of 2010 is Jan. 5 against Bonnyville at 7 p.m.
Captain Ryan Edens (171 PIM in 38 games) started his two game suspension Tuesday for being involved in a fight while another was in progress. The Steel’s all-time career penalty minutes leader (654 in 155 games) traded punches with Lindsay LeBlanc of the Thunder during a lengthy bout at the same time David Carr and Eric Sieben of the Thunder were exchanging blows. Both fights appeared to start at the same time, with 3:49 left in period two.