Double Header Home Weekend - Jan 6-7th Recap
They promised to start the year off with a bang and that’s exactly what the Pioneers did. In their first game back after the holiday break, they treated fans to a 5-3 win to start off the second half of the season.
Fox Creek got into penalty trouble early with two quick trips to the box but the Pioneers couldn’t capitalize and went down 1-0 off a short handed goal 5 minutes into the frame. But just over half way through the period Vansickle tied it up for the Pioneers with assistance from Lovely and goaltender Williams who was also outstanding in goal stopping 15 shots in the first. Williams said of coming back after the holiday break, "Honestly, I just came into the New Year with a refreshed mindset and played my game the best I can."
A stronger defensive second paired with high pressure offense allowed the Pioneers to go ahead 3-2 after an unassisted from Zago and a late second period goal from L’Hirondelle assisted by Shawn St. Arnaud and Bishop. St. Arnaud has been no stranger to the score sheet since joining the roster a few weeks ago. The team added another newcomer this week as well, Logan Burns.
Coach Arsenault feels as though "the new additions to the roster with Lovely and St. Arnaud joining have been great. That is very evident in the way they play on the ice. Our new defenceman Logan Burns stepped in and he was unbelievable on Friday night. He plays like he is 6'6" although he is only 5'9". It was good to see - he's a very physical player and I hope he can keep that up."
The third and final frame saw Ethan Zago complete his hat trick with a power play goal from Lovely and Shawn St. Arnaud and the icing on the cake from Kalin and Vansickle, earning him 2nd star honours. Zago is now trending a point per game and was asked about his success so far. "My hat trick, I 100% owe to my team. We were able to generate 54 shots which made for many scoring opportunities - 3 of which ended in my favour. I would say my points this season just come from being in the right place at the right time. But truthfully, I have a lot more improvement to make as far as generating points off my opportunities."
First Star went to Nate Williams with a total of 34 saves. Coach was impressed with Williams - "Williams stood on his head stopping 34 shots. We dominated most of the game but there were a couple odd man rushes, a couple 2 on 0's and he played really, really well. He tracked the puck well and seemed to be able to scramble. When we look back since September, he is probably one of the more improved players on the team. It is exciting to see his hard work paying off now and I hope he can ride this confidence and continue to play well moving forward."
But Nate also credited his teammates, "the guys played great tonight and everybody put everything they had out there on the ice. Everyone worked hard and nobody gave up. Definitely one of the best games the guys have played this season."
The third and final star went out to Keegan Vansickle who had a goal and an assist on the night.
Aside from the shot differential, one of the other keys to the game was Fox Creek having almost twice as many penalty minutes as the Pioneers. Arsenault has been preaching discipline from the very start. "The guys are playing a lot more disciplined for sure. It is something that we have lacked all season in moments. I think it is important for guys not to get emotionally hijacked especially in games that are close. Sometimes dirty things happen but it's important to stay with the plan. Playing 5v5 versus being short handed gives us the best chance to win and it's something the guys certainly understand and we can definitely see the improvement there."
Their discipline continued into Saturday night against High Prairie but the first place team was still a tough match up for the Pioneers as they fell to the Redwings in their second game of the home weekend double header.
Despite the loss, Zago stated, "2023 is a new year and we are a new team with more aggression and higher standards. To put it simply I am VERY excited for the rest of the season."
Coach Arsenault wrapped up with a look to the future. "It is exciting to see the team coming together and clicking. I'm looking forward to the second half of the season here and to keep bringing guys into this program and seeing what we can do moving forward into the offseason and then into the next. Despite the rough start, there is an exciting road ahead.Rebuilding is not something that is done overnight. We knew this season was going to be tough but it is good to see that the base we are building is really, really strong and it's going to lead to a very successful future."