The Bonnyville Pontiacs are now in an interesting predicament.
Currently, on their longest losing streak of the season at four games after 3-2 and 6-2 losses to Grande Prairie last weekend, the Pontiacs need a win against the Spruce Grove Saints on Wednesday – not only to have a chance at getting back in first place, but to avoid sliding into third.
Before the Saints and Pontiacs square off at 7:30pm tonight, Spruce Grove sits three points behind the Yaks for the 2nd seed, and are winners of their last seven games.
Although it’s unlikely, if the Pontiacs were to lose on Wednesday and drop points in their final games against Lloydminster and Whitecourt, they could slide another spot in the AJHL North Division standings.
“After the second game up in Grande Prairie we met as a team and we talked about a couple things. But one of the messages that were sent across was we needed to make sure that we got back having fun, got back to having smiles on our faces. The last four games obviously haven’t gone our way,” said assistant coach TJ Millar.
“A lot of long faces, a lot of frustration and anger. The last couple days of practice one of the things we really emphasized was we asked our guys why do you love the game of hockey and what keeps you coming back to the rink?”
“It’s a fun environment if you’re spending all your time with your brothers, it’s a real family identity and that’s what we’ve been focusing on and emphasizing going into tomorrow.”
This is the worst time of the year for the Pontiacs to struggle – especially as the team sits one win away from tying the franchise record for most wins in a season with 40.
So, what’s causing it?
“If I knew that I’d be making a lot more money than I do now,” said Millar.
“I don’t know. Every team goes through a bit of adversity during the season. It’s just one of those things. It’s up to us as a group to rebound and find ways to simplify our game and get back to being successful and I firmly believe we’re going to do that.”
Outstanding defenseman nominee Luke Albert saw the doctor on Tuesday and will “need a bit more time” before he sees the ice again.
Captain Grayson Constable has been dealing with a lower-body injury, but played on Saturday and is expected to go again on Wednesday.
The Pontiacs have done very well against the mighty Saints this season only losing once in five games. The Pontiacs beat the Saints 8-1 in late January, and in their most recent meeting, snuck out a 2-1 overtime winner off the stick of Bobby Young.
New acquisition Ryan Peckford, a Stony Plain local, has scored 22 points in 16 games since joining the Saints in January. He was previously playing in the WHL.
Mackenzie Harden, also a deadline get, is fourth in team scoring.
“It’s a huge game. They’re playing well, on a seven-game win streak which we can not ignore. They made a lot of great additions at the deadline and they’re a team that’s primed up for some success.
“We just cannot get away from the mindset and philosophy of fun because if you look at practice, if guys were around to watch our practice today, it was a lot of pace, it was smiling, guys were challenging each other to be better, people were flying around and physical, it had a playoff practice atmosphere, and that’s something we’re going to bring into tomorrow.
“Spruce Grove plays us well. They’re a deep team like us, but I firmly believe that if we stick to the gameplan, have fun, enjoy the process of playing the game through adversity, I think we’re going to be great and I think it’s going to be a great game tomorrow night,” said Millar.
Both the Crusaders and Saints play the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Grande Prairie Storm in their final two regular season games.
The Pontiacs host the Lloydminster Bobcats on Friday after the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event with the Margaret Savage Crisis Centre. Puck drop is at 7:30pm.