On paper the St. Albert Slash should have an easy best-of-three playoff series after losing out on the opening round bye to the Lloydminster Steelers in Saturday's 4-2 decision at Performance Arena.
Starting tonight at 7:45 p.m. the Slash (13-11-8) host the Spruce Grove Saints (0-31-1), who finally got their first point of the season with 4-4 tie against the Grande Prairie Storm last weekend at Grant Fuhr Arena.
Game two is Saturday in Spruce Grove at noon. If necessary, the third and deciding game is Sunday at Performance at 11 a.m.
Head coach Terry Sydor said a clean playoff slate gives every team an equal footing, regardless of their league record.
“We're confident we should be able to get the job done. The players have to understand that their effort will reflect the result. Sometimes the effort doesn't match the mindset,” Sydor said. “If you do take things for granted you won't be successful. Confidence is fine but you need to back it up with work ethic. We get it in spurts but we let up and get casual sometimes.”
Sydor is looking for two things out of his club: emotional investment and strong goaltending.
“You don't go far in the playoffs without great netminding. We have two girls that have and can get the job done and we'll be counting on them,” he said. “We need to score five-on-five. Our power play has been good lately but we have to eliminate the shorthanded goals and get the even-strength offence going. That was the difference in the Calgary Flyers game [1-0 loss Jan. 31 at Performance] and [against the Steelers] as well.
“It's a new season and every team has just as much a chance as another. We proved down in Calgary [by winning the Mac's tournament] with a young team that under the big pressure we can come through, so it's possible but it's a matter of doing it.”
Against the Steelers (15-10-7), period scores were 1-1 and 2-2.
The Slash opened the scoring, courtesy of an even-strength goal by Jessica Kampjes in the first period.
Slash captain Melissa Kueber tallied in the second period
However, a shorthanded marker by Jennifer Moe in the second and a power play goal by Brooke Fouracres in the third proved to be the difference.
“Scoring first has been our good luck charm, and we did that,” Sydor said, “but the shorty took the momentum out of us.”
In the third the Slash put the puck in the net, but the referee was out of position and none of the players made any motion to celebrate the goal. Sydor called it a complete lack of emotion that could have changed the complexion of the game. Because the players didn't react and the ref was too far away, the puck was swept out of the net and play continued.
Slash goalie Emily Mitchell faced 25 shots and St. Albert directed 21 the way of Jillian Diachuk.
The Slash were unable to capitalize on five power play opportunities.
Sydor was frustrated his club didn't seem to show up for a critical game that could have earned them a first-round bye.
“It was a game for second place but we didn't play like we wanted to be a second place team,” he said. “Lloydminster is no slouch and they were in the same boat as us. If we win, they would have faced Spruce but they were hungrier.
“They have some very good offensive people on that team. We did a good job of neutralizing them but their depth players created all the offence.”
Sydor pointed to the home tilt with the Flyers, in which the Slash played the full game and dominated after the first 30 seconds, as what he expects to see out of his players effort-wise in the playoffs.
“The Flyers game was one of the best we played in the new year. We didn't get the result even though we shut them down after [Calgary scored on] the first shift,” he said. “[Against the Steelers] we started out well but the breakdowns, they're going to happen in the pros but with young people it's inconsistency. It's a challenge. We had some people who didn't have good games and didn't answer the bell for whatever reason.
“We're at the point in the season where you have to or you don't play anymore. Some of them live in this spring-hockey bubble where it's OK if you lose a game because you'll jump back in. But in real hockey if you don't win, you don't keep playing. That's why we need a consistent 60 minutes.”