The St. Albert Steel are counting down the days until the puck drops Feb. 25 in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs.
“Everyone is real anxious. We’re looking forward to it,” right-winger Taylor Fraser told the Gazette at Wednesday’s practice. “At this point in the season everyone knows their role and what their job is. We just have to keep focusing on that and go into every game thinking, ‘I’m going to do my job and do it right.’”
After Friday’s home tilt with the Lloydminster Bobcats, the sixth-place Steel (21-25-1-4) have eight games to go before they start the best-of five opening round series. St. Albert’s most likely opponent is the third-place Fort McMurray Oil Barons (32-16-1-2). The fourth-place Sherwood Park Crusaders (27-16-2-7) are another possibility. The Steel’s last four games of the season include three with the Oil Barons and one against the Crusaders.
“I don’t think it matters at all who we play. Either way we’re not going to get home ice off the bat,” Fraser said. “We really can’t think about it too much. Our downfall this year is over-thinking things and if we just keep playing the way we’re playing, battle hard and stick to our guns, we’ll be fine.”
Tonight at 7 p.m. the Steel host the Spruce Grove Saints (44-4-1-3), ranked number one in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) as the team to beat in the playoffs.
The previous night against the seventh-place Bobcats (score unavailable at press time) the Steel played their first game since Jan. 28, a 6-3 road loss to the AJHL champion Grande Prairie Storm (35-14-1-2), ranked second in the north and fifth in the CJHL. The Steel trailed 2-1 after the first period and 4-2 after two periods while outshot 37-18 overall. David Carr’s 20th goal tied it at one in the first and Reed Linaker’s league-high 15th power play goal made it 2-2 early in the second.
“We let that one go on us. At times we showed we could skate with them. It was more or less just bearing down,” Fraser said. “They’ve got that big line with [Zahn] Raubenheimer, [Dennis] Rix and [Travis] Dunstall and they’re tough to defend. You’ve got to really pay attention to them and we let that get away from us a little bit in the defensive zone.”
The trio combined for five goals, led by Raubenheimer’s hat trick. The AJHL points leader with 94, on 42 goals and 52 assists in 52 games, was five points ahead of Steel assistant captain Bryce Williamson (35-54-89 in 51 games) in the scoring race after the all-star break last weekend.
The loss was the third in six games for the Steel as their overall record in 2010 dropped to 5-6-0-1.
“We’ve been skating hard and working harder in practices and that’s something after the Christmas break we wanted to really look at. We’re taking practices a little more seriously now and following that up into the games,” said Fraser, 18.
His assist in Grande Prairie on Baxter Niziol’s second goal in two games with the Steel was the seventh point in 10 games for the midget AAA product of the St. Albert Raiders. His 22 points in 48 games is tied for seventh place in team scoring.
“I’m just bearing down more. [Head coach/general manager Greg] Parks and I had chats about that and I’m definitely capable of doing it. At the start of the season, even midway, I wasn’t putting up the points I should be but since Christmas I’ve been really focusing on putting the puck into the net and just doing my job,” said Fraser, who anchored a line with Niziol and Mike Giese in Grande Prairie after previous games playing with Phil Gervais and Steve Axford.
Fraser’s 13 goals, including five on the power play, is seven more than he netted in his Steel debut last season while recording 20 points in 56 games.
“It’s been an OK season, more up and down I guess. I definitely would like to have a lot more consistency. That’s the biggest thing I have to work on with my game and once that comes around I should do fine.”
The St. Albert Catholic High School graduate is also playing with an edge with 76 penalty minutes compared to his Lady Byng total of 13 in 2008/09. There has been no shortage of dance partners for the free-swinging combatant while racking up the fights.
“That’s another thing Parks and I talked about. I’m a bigger kid [at six feet and 176 pounds] and I’m capable of doing it. It’s not something I want to do every game, that’s not the kind of player I am, but I know that when I’m more physically involved I’m definitely a better player and I’m playing to my potential.”
ICE CHIPS: The Steel are accepting applications for the position of director of marketing and sales. Job description includes corporate sponsorship sales and servicing, liaison between corporate partners and team, event management and implementation or promotion and fundraising team events, develop team publications, advertising and public relations, develop and execute media properties and provide administration assistance to the general manager and/or coach.
The deadline for applications is Feb. 14. Resumes are to be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org or dropped off at the Steel office at Servus Credit Union Place.