There’s no better time for a team to get hot than right before the end of the season. And with less than a month remaining in the 2018-2019 NEAJBHL regular season – that’s exactly what the St. Paul Canadiens have done.
They came into their Friday-night game against the Lloydminster Bandits with a six-game win streak.
The Bandits gave them a scare and a good challenge, but smart offence and strong defence gave St. Paul the 4-3 win.
Lane Wycotte and Alex Astasiewicz both scored in the first period to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead.
Their goals bookended a rough scrap between St. Paul’s Sheldon Scrannage and Lloydminster’s Jaxon Payne. The fight ignited a fire in both teams and set the tone for a very physical night.
The Canadiens got into a bit of penalty trouble late in the first period while both Brayden Burak and Hayden Lyons were in the box (for roughing and slashing, respectively). The Bandits scored on the two-man advantage, in the final minute of the first period to end the frame 2-1.
St. Paul’s defence was in fine form during the second period.
The Bandits seemed incapable of breaking into the Canadiens’ end for anything other than a one-and-done effort. Another goal by Astasiewicz furthered the Canadiens’ lead to 3-1 before the close of the second.
The third period was tense and hard-fought. Orrie Wood scored early to put the Canadiens up 4-1, and it looked like they had the game in hand.
Their offence was in full force, and the Bandits were caught on several odd-man rush situations. St. Paul looked sharp setting up extended periods of pressure in the Bandits’ end and moved the puck skillfully.
But despite the increased offence, St. Paul wasn’t able to score again, and the Bandits slowly started creeping up on them. Tyler Musgrave scored Lloyd’s second goal of the night, and then Ty Kainer scored with just two minutes left in the game to bring the Bandits back within one.
Lloydminster looked for every opportunity to pull their goalie for the extra attacker, but St. Paul refused to give them any breathing room. They never got the goalie on the bench, and the Canadiens held on to win it 4-3, extending their winning streak to seven games.
“We made things a bit harder on ourselves by taking some bad penalties tonight,” said Canadiens coach Joe Young, “but overall I think we played a pretty good game. We cycled the puck really well tonight. We kept it down low and kept the pressure on all night.”
Young also stressed that the Canadiens have focused on getting in a playoff frame of mind early, and elevating their game.
“We have, really, only a handful of games left and need to make the most of them. So we are playing playoff hockey now and we’re on a bit of a roll. The guys have a lot of confidence and they are showing up big every night; leaving it all on the ice.”
The Canadiens’ streak, however, came to an end on Saturday night when they were shut out on the road by Wainright, 6-0.
Wainwright, predictably, sits on top of the league with 44 points (22-3-0). Lac La Biche, who have had an incredible season, sit just two points back at 42 (21-3-0) but also have a game in hand. The Clippers have the potential to snag the top spot from Wainwright, but it’s unlikely that any other team will take a top two spot.
Killam sits in third with 36 points (16-6-2), six points back from the Clippers. St. Paul is hot on Killam’s heels with 33 points (16-9-1). Rounding out the bottom half of the standings are the Cold Lake Ice (13-13-0) and the Lloyd Bandits (13-12-1) with 27 points each. Frog Lake has 17 points (7-15-3), Vermilion has 14 (6-19-1), and Vegreville sits on the bottom with just 2 points (1-23-0).
St. Paul has just six games left to play in the season, and their next game might be the most critical. They’ll play the Killam Wheat Kings on the road; the last time the two teams will meet this season. St. Paul sits just three points behind Killam, so grabbing the win and two points will be vital if they want to move up in the standings before the close of the season.