Photo: T-Birds captain Navarro Lane joins the Bandits’ Tegan Peters at center ice for a ceremonial Remembrance Day puck drop on Sunday night.
After a tough 7-2 loss to St. Paul last weekend, the Frog Lake T-Birds looked to be in a tough spot. A far cry from the team that challenged the Wainwright Bisons in the league finals earlier this year, the T-Birds had won just a single game at the start of last weekend. Head coach Harvey Smyl was frank but optimistic about the position that his team was in after the loss.
“We’ve basically got a sign above our heads that says ‘work in progress,’” he said. “That’s not a bad thing necessarily; it gives us a chance to grow and find our footing as a team. But that team cohesiveness just isn’t there. We’re always adjusting lines, tinkering and trying to tweak things here and there.”
The following day, the T-Birds crushed the still winless Vegreville Rangers 9-2, a game that acted as a major confidence boost for the team.
This weekend, Frog Lake took down the Vermilion Tigers in decisive fashion, beating them 8-1, and then grabbed an important win against the Lloydminster Bandits on Sunday night. Coming into the game, the Bandits sat four points up on the struggling T-Birds. But measured play and a strong presence at both ends of the ice lifted the T-Birds to a 5-2 victory.
The night didn’t start particularly well for the T-Birds. Lloydminster scored the first goal of the night just eight seconds into the game. But to Frog Lake’s credit, they quickly bounced back with an answering goal a few minutes later, off the stick of Tobie Opikokew. Opikokew would also score again in the first period to give Frog Lake a 2-1 lead.
The Bandits tied things up early in the second period. But once again, the T-Birds answered quickly. Austin Bill scored an unassisted goal less than a minute after Lloydminster’s equalizer. Bill had a fantastic night with two goals and two assists.
The T-Birds struggled with discipline in this game, as they have done consistently this season. They took twice as many penalties as the Bandits throughout the game. But their special teams played excellently on Sunday, and Bill was able to score a short-handed goal in the third period. This, combined with another goal by Frog Lake’s Tyrone Potts, was enough to seal the final score at 5-2.
Frog Lake looked practically like a team altogether different from the team that hit the ice just a week ago. They capitalized on more chances; they worked harder and used open ice more effectively; they made their strong defensive presence felt and didn’t let pressure or a quick first-period goal get to their heads.
“I thought we were definitely better tonight than we have been most this season,” Smyl said on Sunday night. “Now, that doesn’t mean we were perfect. But we’re showing signs of improvement. We’re getting there, if we can strive for consistency and find the right lineups, then we can really get moving. There’s a lot of time left in the season, and we intend to make the most of it.”
The T-Birds now sit just 2 points behind the Bandits in the league standings thanks to their three-game win streak. Frog Lake also has two games in hand and could overtake the Bandits for sixth place this weekend. But their task isn’t an easy one; they host the ever-formidable Wainwright Bisons on Saturday night. The Bisons are 9-1-0 this season. It’s not an easy game to win, for certain, but Smyl doesn’t think it’s impossible.
“We’ve beaten them before when the odds were against us, and we can do it again.”
The puck drops at 8:00 p.m. in Frog Lake on Saturday night.