After a slow start the St. Albert Steel finished last weekend’s homestand with a bang.
“It was a good four-point weekend,” said defenceman Thomas Ward-Cardinal, the Steel’s man of the match in two out of three games at Performance Arena. “In our first game it didn’t go very well and then we bounced back with a good game and won in overtime, and today we played pretty good, too.”
Friday the Steel were blanked 4-0 by the Alberta Junior Hockey League champion Spruce Grove Saints. Saturday, they needed an extra period to beat the Grande Prairie Storm 3-2. In Sunday’s 5-1 victory over the Calgary Mustangs, three goals with the man advantage in the third period rocked the visiting team as St. Albert improved its home record to 8-3.
“Obviously we would’ve liked to have come out with six points but we responded really well after we had that tough game against Spruce Grove. We came out with a good effort against Grande Prairie and we were even better today,” said captain Mike Giese.
It was a must-win weekend for the Steel (12-8), ranked seventh out of eight teams in the north with games in hand on the rest of the division.
“We needed to come out with a good effort and get some points so it was definitely a huge weekend for us,” Giese said.
The Steel skated without their best player, all-star centre Reed Linaker (10-14-24, 13 games), who is competing for Canada West at the fifth annual World Junior A Challenge, which wraps up Sunday in Penticton, B.C.
“There was probably lots of skepticism from other teams and people coming into the weekend thinking that we couldn’t win without Linny but we’re definitely capable,” Giese said.
The Steel also overcame an injury to netminder Chris Sharkey with 2:21 to go in regulation time against the Storm and the score knotted at two apiece. Sharkey (0-1, 4.85 GAA) stopped 48 shots before Dan Correale banged into Sharkey during a goalmouth collision. His replacement, Rhys Hadfield, didn’t face a shot the rest of the way as Derek Bacon scored on a four-on-three power play with 1:46 left in the five-minute OT frame for his third point of the night. Ward-Cardinal and newcomer Brandon Fagerheim assisted on the game winner.
“You never like to see a guy go down like that but we definitely have faith in Rhys and he came in and the shut the door,” Giese said.
Sharkey was on crutches the next day at the rink, as Hadfield (12-7, 3.65 GAA) went the distance against the Mustangs with 28 saves. It was 3-0 when the Mustangs spoiled Hadfield’s shutout bid on the power play at 10:09 in period three.
Hadfield was also between the pipes against the first-place Saints (17-2-0-3) and stopped 35 shots, including 16 in the third as the Steel were outshot 17-1 in the period and 39-24 overall. It was scoreless until the Saints tallied twice in a 34-second span in the middle period and led by three after 40 minutes.
“We had a couple of breakdowns and made mistakes. When you do that they’re a good enough team that they’re going to put the puck in the back of the net and they just capitalized,” said Giese, who instigated a fight with Dustin Fostvelt with fewer than seven minutes to play and was tossed from the game.
The next day against the fifth-place Storm (12-8-0-3) the Steel held period leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on goals by Bacon on the power play and Ward-Cardinal’s first with St. Albert and fourth of the season. Correale evened the score at 11:38 of the third.
“We played really well against GP. They’re one of the stronger teams in the north division and we worked really hard,” said Ward-Cardinal, who posted a Gordie Howe hat-trick in the win.
It was the fifth Steel victory decided after regulation time — four in OT and one by shootout.
“We probably should’ve finished them off in regulation but we’re fine winning in overtime,” Giese said.
Sunday’s matinee marked the third game in a row the Steel got outshot on home ice. They registered only 19 shots against the Mustangs (9-16), but Fagerheim (first AJHL goal), Bacon, Taylor Fraser, Ward-Cardinal and Giese filled the net against the AJHL’s worst defensive team (124 GA).
“Three [games]in three [nights]is pretty exhausting. I’m sure we were all a little tired today but we battled through it and got the two points,” Giese said. “We just kept things simple; pucks deep and pucks out.”
Bacon’s 11th goal with nine seconds left in period two, following a turnover in the Calgary zone, marked the beginning of the end for the Mustangs. He also picked up two assists in the third for a team-leading 27 points.
“In the first period we played pretty good but we should’ve had more shots [than seven]. In the second period there wasn’t much five-on-five play, it was more special teams that period. In the third period we were on the power play to basically end the game,” said Ward-Cardinal.
The Hobbema product teed-up a shot from the blueline on the power play early in the third that was deflected by Fraser to make it 3-0. The goal was Fraser’s 12th and his seventh on the power play to lead the team in both categories.
On the ensuing faceoff after the Mustangs scored, Giese sent a player sprawling with a low hit along the boards and Damien Kulynych jumped the diminutive forward with both fists flying. When the dust settled, the Steel were awarded a seven-minute power play with 9:44 to play.
“No harm, no foul so it was all right,” said Giese, who wasn’t penalized on the play. “I think it was something that was planned before the puck even dropped there.”
Giese, 20, played a huge role in the team’s fourth win in five games. Not only did the fourth-year Steel veteran seal the deal at 15:16 on the power play with his fourth goal, and the 20th of his career in 175 games, he also raised the ire of the Mustangs during a second-period collision with netminder Jared Anderson. Both players made a mad dash for the puck in the high slot and Giese tried to soften the impact by turning his back but the force of the impact sent Andersen’s mask flying into the air. Giese was penalized for goaltender interference.
Steal of a deal
Another major contributor was Ward-Cardinal, who struck on the power play at 13:59 of the third against his former team. The 18-year-old was sent to St. Albert for assistant captain Ryan Wilkinson, who quit the Steel on Oct. 5 and demanded a trade. Wilkinson, 19, was the Steel’s highest-scoring defenceman with seven points in 11 games. With the Mustangs, the St. Albert product has one goal and four assists in 11 games.
“It felt good beating those guys but it’s more important that we got two points out of the game too,” said Ward-Cardinal.
In 57 games the second-year AJHL player has 13 goals, compared to seven goals in 129 games for Wilkinson.
After posting two goals and two assists last weekend, Ward-Cardinal raised his point totals to 10 in eight games with the Steel.
“I’ve just been shooting the puck when I can, get it on the net and try and make good a pass on the power play,” said Ward-Cardinal, who was selected the Steel’s top player against the Saints and Mustangs.
This weekend the Steel host the fourth-place Lloydminster Bobcats (14-10) Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5.
Saturday the Steel travel to Bonnyville to play the third-place Pontiacs (15-5-0-3) at 7 p.m.