The Bonnyville Pontiacs snapped a five-game losing streak and went into extra time twice in a busy Easter long weekend as the eight-game summit against the Sherwood Park Crusaders wrapped up.
In three games in as many nights, the Yaks held off a late third-period charge Saturday to hang onto a 3-2 win.
On Friday and Sunday in Sherwood Park, Crusaders forward Vincent Scott extended his point streak to seven games and scored the overtime and shootout winners respectively, in 4-3 and 3-2 wins.
Bonnyville ends the series with two wins out of eight games and a 4-6-2 record in regular-season play. They will have next weekend off before joining a new cohort group.
With talks of this stretch being an extended development period, Pontiacs assistant coach TJ Millar looked at the big picture of where this group is at.
“We’re a work-based team. You look at Alex Power’s goal last night, fundamentally sound on the cycle, not trying to force pucks through the middle, we’re creating lanes and opportunities for ourselves simply by moving our feet, moving the puck in a proper situation in the offensive zone,” said Millar.
“We’re not a toe drag, spinorama team, we’re a team that has to bring our hard hat and lunch pail. We’re not gonna wow you with our skill, we’re going to wow you with our work ethic and our consistency and we haven’t quite seen it yet,” he said.
“When we work we are very fun to watch.”
Austin Saint continues to be the team’s top scorer with 9 points in 12 games. Saint’s been playing on a line consistently with Wyatt Cook, and either Mason Mantzavrakos or Matt Gerke. Cook has earned three assists and dropped the mitts on Friday against Ashton McNelly in a heavyweight tilt. Mantzavrakos has two goals since joining the Yaks.
The team’s most utilized line is Ethan Sundar, Alex Power, and Jaden York. Sundar’s playmaking ability is creating the most scoring chances of anyone on the Yaks, he’s just looking to be rewarded for his efforts so far with one goal and four assists. Power too has five points in his first season with the club and his skating ability has been on full display. There are few guys on the Yaks who can skate as well as Power. Sherwood Park is likely grateful to not see York anymore, who over the course of the eight games, had 10 devastating, clean hits.
Sebastian Tamburro has the team lead in goals with five and he has many offensive tools to his game. He can get into the sensitive areas below the faceoff dots and behind the net, and when he gets cycling the puck with Roc Truman and Bruce MacGregor, they create chances. Truman and MacGregor are both mired in offensive slumps are still looking for their first goals of the season.
Chayce Schmidt and Justin Stathopoulos are finding ways to be effective. ‘Stath’ has four goals this season and Schmidt is one of the more trusted faceoff men for Bonnyville. Schmidt’s empty-netter Saturday turned out to be the game-winner and there’s no question about how hard he works. Trey Funk has most often rounded out that line–a first-year player who is finding his way in the AJHL.
No Pontiacs has seen more ice than AJ Macaulay since the restart. The 18-year-old played in every situation, saw the most special teams minutes he has since becoming a Pontiac, and was trusted to play north of 35-40 minutes a game because of the Yaks young D-core. Quietly, he has five assists, but blocks 4-5 shots a game, and sees the opponent’s best weapons when he’s on the ice.
Ryan Koebel’s game has elevated too. A 6-7 slot d-man even back in November, Koebel is getting more physically engaged, is more confident in his abilities, and is also chipping in offensively. He scored the equalizer on Sunday for his second of the year and the Pontiacs coaching staff is trusting him more and more.
Zach Whittaker’s point shots are finding ways to be tipped and deflected for goals. Since coming from the Notre Dame Hounds in the SJHL, Whittaker has five points, and is fulfilling a second-pair role for Bonnyville. Spencer Lecot too has some nice pieces to his game and an ability to sneak up into the rush, but is also adjusting to the speed of the Junior A game.
Cam Emigh picked up his first AJHL point on Sunday, assisting on the Koebel goal. At times, Emigh has struggled, but as games continue you notice him less and less–a good sign as the 17-year-old grows more comfortable.
You’re also seeing the areas that make JR Ashmead an interesting prospect for Bonnyville. His skating ability is starting to flourish at the junior level and being in the lineup more consistently has been good for his development.
Assistant coach TJ Millar said 20-year-old veteran Josh Kroon will be returning soon. Kroon left in early 2021 to play in the NCDC bubble with the South Shore Kings.
“He’s coming in. He’s just finishing his quarantine from his time in the United States…he plays an in-your-face style of game that we don’t necessarily have on the back end,” said Millar. “He’s going to be an added boost of stability.”
Between the pipes
Easton Hesse started each of the wins the Yaks had in the Sherwood Park series and fought off nagging issues to return to the lineup. What can be said about the Yaks best player for the past two seasons. When Hesse plays, the Pontiacs always have a great chance to win. With a .926 save percentage, only Brady Parker of the Okotoks Oilers has a higher save percentage in five games or more.
Hesse being out for three games in the middle of the series meant backup Matthew Hennessey started four times, and although he lost each of the games, you know ‘Henner’ is going to battle when he gets the nod. Hennessey put together a great start on Sunday night, stopping 25 of 27 shots, and a few great chances in overtime as well. He made the first three saves in the shootout Sunday, but Scott’s bar-down wrister proved to be the lone goal of the skills competition.
Bradley Mistol made an appearance in relief of Hennessey on March 19 and made 18 of 19 saves. The big 6’5″ netminder from St. Paul could work his way into the mix more often down the stretch.
Bonnyville Pontiacs hockey on Lakeland Connect continues for more action this season. The AJHL will take a pause in action this upcoming weekend and will release the next cohort groups and schedule soon.