Pontiacs beat first place Crusaders, one point back of first

 Image provided by http://gamereadyphotography.com. Grayson Constable celebrates one of his three goals in a big win for the Bonnyville Pontiacs that puts them one point out of first place in the North Division.

Grayson Constable scored a hat-trick and Colby Muise stopped 34 shots in a 5-2 win for the Bonnyville Pontiacs over the Sherwood Park Crusaders.

The win puts the Yaks (32-10-3) within one point of first place with a game in hand. Their record against first place Sherwood Park is 3-2.

Coach Rick Swan said he liked how his team played without the puck, and that contributed to the hard-working win.

“I thought we played a complete game even though in the first period would’ve looked like it was tilted in favour of Sherwood Park. I really thought that we had a gameplan tonight and that was to protect the inside of the rink between the dots and keep everything outside,” said Swan.

Constable scored the first two goals of the game unassisted. He made it 2-0 after he stripped the Crusaders defender of the puck and scored 11 seconds into the second period.

“Our captain Grayson Constable was spectacular tonight… he was the best player on the ice. That’s definitely what he takes pride in, he wants to be the guy to lead our group in that way.

“Through our lineup, I thought we had a complete game. Very few mistakes. If you rewind a few games ago, we had a 3-1 lead going into the third period against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, we allowed them to come back in and detracted our focus and maybe weren’t dialed in as much as we needed to today,” said Swan.

The Crusaders were far ahead on the shot clock for most of the night until the third period.

At one point, the shots were 26-8 in favour of the Crusaders, but that margin was narrowed to 36-35 by the end of the game.

“Even though the shots were quite a bit in favour of Sherwood Park when you keep shots outside with a goaltender like Colby Muise, they’re just not going to be able to beat him. He was the guy that allowed to get into the second and third period feeling good about ourselves and in control,” said Swan.

Jeremy Gervais made it 3-0 with a wicked wrist shot entering the Crusaders zone on the powerplay. Goaltender Matt Berlin looked like was screened on the shot.

With eleven minutes remaining in the third period, the Crusaders again made it a two-goal game thanks to Arjun Atwal from William Zapernick. But the Pontiacs staved off any comeback attempt with a final putaway goal by Joel Ray mid-way through the third period.

Penalty-killing gets top marks

Rick Swan warned his team before the game that they couldn’t take too many penalities against the Crusaders because of their dynamic powerplay. The coaching staff spent a lot of time looking at the number one powerplay in the North and it showed.

The Pontiacs, the number one team in the AJHL on penalty-kill, were perfect, not allowing a goal on four opportunities.

“That’s the hottest powerplay in the league. If you look a the guys they’ve got on there, they’ll make you pay. Any time that team has had success, if we rewind our last meeting in Vermilion, it was their powerplay that they capitalized on,” said Swan.

Two games this weekend

The Pontiacs collected five of six points on their homestand and will face the Drayton Valley Thunder and Spruce Grove Saints this weekend on the road.

“It’s not going to get any easier for us. Drayton Valley with arguably on the best players in junior A in Luke Lush, who’s been terrific for them…that’s a very difficult building to play in.

“Right back at it in Spruce Grove against the Saints. They’re trying to climb the standings they’re behind us,” said Swan.

“We still don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet because we need to hit our stride in March when we need to be our very best. So that’s a good thing for us right now.”

The Pontiacs return home next Wednesday to face the Lloydminster Bobcats.