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    Categories: Local Sports

Top gun shoots for scoring title

The St. Albert Steel’s all-time scoring leader is on target to win the Ernie Love Trophy as the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s top point producer.

“It’s in the back of my mind. It would be a pretty big honour,” said assistant captain Bryce Williamson, who registered his 89th point in Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the AJHL champion Grande Prairie Storm.

The 20-year-old right-winger from Seba Beach is five points back of the Storm’s Zahn Raubenheimer (42-52-94 in 52 games) for the league lead. Raubenheimer riddled the Steel with three goals and one assist. His linemate, Dennis Rix (30-60-90 in 52 games), added one goal and three assists. Rix is second overall in the points’ race and Williamson is third.

“The scoring title would be a personal achievement and something that I would like to do but at the same time I definitely want to help our team win more hockey games and be better as a team,” said Williamson, who has never finished first in league scoring at any level of hockey.

Offensive threat

The Steel’s MVP last season extended his point-scoring streak to 12 games (nine goals, including the 100th of his AJHL career, and 14 assists) as the set-up man on Reed Linaker’s 31st goal.

Williamson credits linemates Alex Perkins (who replaced all-star Dan Carr on the top unit when the left winger was traded before the Christmas break) and Linaker for his recent scoring exploits.

“Five-on-five, our line has played pretty good,” said Williamson, who joins Linaker as the Steel reps at the AJHL all-star game today at Fort McMurray. “On the power play, we’ve been getting some good chances and scoring some pretty big goals.”

The former Fort Saskatchewan Trader is also four goals away from 100 with the Steel.

“That would be huge, especially since it’s a new team,” said Williamson, the Steel leader in points in the team’s inaugural 2007/08 season in St. Albert with 61 in 61 games.

His 100th AJHL milestone marker was sniped Jan. 8 in his 207th game, a second period tally against Canmore Eagles’ goalie Sam Brittain in a 6-5 road win.

“It’s a big accomplishment. It’s a good feeling,” said Williamson, a lock to capture his third Steel scoring crown in three seasons.

In his AJHL rookie debut with the Traders, the 2007 playoff finalists, the midget AAA product of the Maple Leafs Athletic Club potted seven goals and added five assists in 42 games. His first AJHL goal was scored on the power play Oct. 1, 2006 in Drumheller against Jonathan Larose in a 6-1 Traders win.

“It’s gone by pretty quick. After my first year [with the Traders]I came to St. Albert and got 61 points and it’s kept going up from there,” said Williamson, who will play next season for the Bowling Green State University Falcons in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. “I haven’t really thought about it too much. Yeah, it’s my last year in the AJ but I’m more concerned about the team and making sure we’re playing our best come playoff time.”

The franchise leader in games played (170), goals (96), assists (124), points (220), power play goals (42) and game winners (12) has been held pointless only seven times this season, including three shutout losses while racking up 35 goals and 54 assists in 51 games.

“I want to be remembered as a go-to guy and a goal scorer but most importantly I want to be known more as a leader who always plays hard and always wants the team to do well, a guy who just contributed night in and night out.”

Playoff race

Thursday’s result was the third loss in five games for the Steel (21-25-1-4), ranked sixth out of eight teams in the north. Unless the Steel can overtake the Bonnyville Pontiacs (25-25-2-1) for fifth place — they were six points back with two games in hand after the Storm game — St. Albert will start the best-of-five opening round in Fort McMurray against the third-place Oil Barons (32-15-1-2). Three of the Steel’s last four games before the playoffs are against Fort McMurray, including a pair at home to wrap up the schedule.

“I don’t know if we’re necessarily watching the standings at all but with [nine]games left we just want to be going into the playoffs with a lot of steam,” Williamson said. “We just want to build every day and get better so when the playoffs do come around it doesn’t matter who we play; we’re going to put in a good effort and hopefully win the first round.”

Another potential first round opponent is the second-place Storm (35-14-1-2). They dominated the Steel in shots 37-18 while building period leads of 2-1 and 4-2. David Carr’s 20th goal, Baxter Niziol’s second goal with the Steel and Linaker’s league-high 15th power play goal provided the offence. In net was Chad Ketting (5-4-1, 4.33 GAA).

“It’s a good test for us going into GP. We’ve got to be able to win on the road,” Williamson said.

The Steel were coming off an 8-3 victory in Drayton Valley against the last-place Thunder (12-36-2-3) last weekend. Spencer Pommells led all scorers with one goal and four assists. Linaker and Carr tallied two goals apiece. Notching singles were Williamson, Niziol and Taylor Fraser. Shots were 42-26 for St. Albert. Ketting posted the win.

“It was a good bounce-back win for sure after losing to Lloyd [3-1 Jan. 20 against the seventh-place Bobcats at Lloydminster],” said Williamson, who picked up two assists. “The first period was one of the better periods we’ve played in quite some time [three goals on 19 shots]. After that we kind of got away from it a bit but it was still a good win nonetheless.”

Next weekend the Steel host Lloydminster (16-28-1-6) Friday and the powerhouse Spruce Grove Saints (41-4-1-3) Saturday. Game times are 7 p.m. at Performance Arena.

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