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Steel shut out

The St. Albert Steel staggered into the Christmas break after arguably their worst performance in franchise history.

The St. Albert Steel staggered into the Christmas break after arguably their worst performance in franchise history.

Outshot 37-28 while giving up five power play goals, the Steel were outclassed 9-0 by the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in front of an announced crowd of 507 Tuesday at Performance Arena.

"It's a bitter, disappointing loss," centre Reed Linaker said outside a quiet Steel dressing room. "Anytime you fall down 3-0 after one period you're not going to come back too often, especially against one of the top teams in the division."

The Steel (16-19-1-3) failed to score on seven power plays while the Oil Barons (27-12-1-2) had 11 man advantage opportunities. Some questionable calls by referee Ryan Weyland contributed to the parade of penalties.

"I don't think it was a 9-0 game," Linaker said. "It just comes down to capitalization and being ready. We hadn't played these guys all year so far and didn't know what to expect. We had to come out guns a-blazing and we didn't."

Richard Gagnon was shelled for five goals on 18 shots in his Steel debut. The newcomer from the junior B Saddle Lake Warriors was replaced by rookie Chris Sharkey with 16 minutes left in the second period. After 40 minutes shots were 24-21 and the Oil Barons had a commanding 7-0 lead.

A penalty-filled third period was an exercise in frustration as the Steel tried to goon it up with Taylor Fraser and Rob Zandbeek instigating fights late in the game.

The loss marked the third time the Steel were shut out this season and twice they were stoned on home ice.

The defensive meltdown left the Steel with the highest goals-against total in the north division with 171 in 39 games. Only the Calgary Royals (182 in 41 games) and Drumheller Dragons (173 in 40 games) have allowed more goals than the Steel in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

The Steel looked like a team still in shock after recent roster developments. Last week their starting goalie, 20-year-old Mark Kotylak (10-13-3, 4.10 GAA and .885 save percentage) quit the club and 18-year-old left winger Dan Carr, their second-highest scorer (54 points in 30 games) and a potential 2010 NHL draft pick, was granted his request to be traded to a contender and was sent packing to the Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League for centre Steve Axford, 18, and future considerations.

"I don't know if rattled would be the word. Obviously losing Dan and Mark is a huge loss but we want guys here that want to compete for the guy next to them," Linaker said. "Dan is a huge loss offensively but we've still got guys that can put the puck in the net. We've got Sharkey, an up and coming goalie, and hopefully he can step in and run away with the starter's role."

The Steel closed out their December schedule with three losses in four games while being outscored 23-10.

"It's tough to kind of explain this year. It's really been an up and down season where we win a couple, then we lose a couple," Linaker said. "We need this break here to hopefully regroup. We've got to come back refreshed and be ready to work hard to get better. Come playoffs it's anybody's game and we've got to gel together as a team and go for it."

In the race for fifth place with 21 games to go the Steel are eight points back of the Sherwood Park Crusaders (18-14-2-6) with a game in hand. A fourth place finish would give the Steel home ice advantage in the opening best-of-five playoff series.

"Home ice would be ideal but as long as we get better towards the end of the season that's all that matters. Wherever we finish, we want to hit our stride come playoffs, not midseason, and hopefully then we can make some noise."

All-star game

"It's obviously a great honour. There are a lot of talented hockey players in this league, especially from the north division, like Willy," said Linaker, 18.

In midget AAA with the Maple Leafs Athletic Club he was the first star in the 2007 all-star game and was the north division's captain in 2008.

"Anytime you're honoured to represent your division it's obviously a fun experience," said Linaker, an all-star game participant in bantam AAA.

The Steel's rookie of the year in 2008/09 is having a banner season with 52 points, on 21 goals and 31 assists in 37 games, and is tied for ninth in the AJHL scoring race. In his first AJHL season he recorded 19 goals and 20 assists while limited to 47 games because of a knee injury.

The Steel ring in the new year Jan. 2 and 3 at Fort McMurray. Their first home game of 2010 is Jan. 5 against the fourth-place Bonnyville Pontiacs (22-17-2) at 7 p.m.

Jeff Hansen

About the Author: Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.
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