Review of Dec 9-10

The first match up of the weekend was a home game against third ranked Edson Eagles. The Pioneers came out strong with the first goal coming from Tyrick Blackhawk on assists from L’Hirondelle and Lovely around 5 minutes into the game. The Eagles snapped back quickly with two goals in thirty seconds less than 2 min after the Pioneers had got on the board. Braden Kalin, the star for the Pioneers on Friday night, tied it back up just over half way through the period. A little disorganization on the part of the Pioneers allowed the Eagles to score two quick ones in the last two minutes and come away with a 4-2 lead after one.

Kalin scored another in the second but it wasn’t enough to overcome the lead and they trailed by 3 going into the third. Once again, they allowed a goal in the last minute of play of the second period. Assistant Coach Steve Gauthier was asked how the staff tried to get the team to regroup for the third after the late goal. “It was hard to come in from the second being down by three but the boys knew that the game was still within our reach. The attitude of the boys was very positive. We spoke about how we needed to clean up plays, keep moving forward and work as a team.” You can be sure that not allowing goals in the dying minutes will be something coach Arsenault focuses on in the coming weeks’ preparation.

The Pioneers let things slip in the third period heading to the box five times despite only one penalty in the first two periods. Goaltender Meric Larson made 36 saves but the deficit was too much to come back from and the Eagles took the game 10-3. Of the soft third period, Shawn St. Arnaud noted, “We need to come into the third with a bit more pep. We came out soft and a bit slow. We can compete with any team in this league and we need to believe it.”

After the game Gauthier noted the biggest take home points - “the biggest thing we took away from this game was how we need to keep our feet moving and how communication is so important. The biggest positive is that the boys never quit and we saw some good chemistry developing with players even with the new addition to the roster” (referencing Oliver Lovely who signed this week prior to the game and Shawn St. Arnaud who has been with the Pioneers for just a few weeks). Arnaud says, “I love being part of the Pioneers. We have a great group of guys and amazing coaching staff that supports and pushes us all week to be better. We’re just getting started and going to create a great culture here. I’m very excited to be a part of the Pioneers!”

The Pioneers came out a little flat for Saturday’s game against Fox Creek. They were lucky to be down only 2-0 going into the first break having been outshot 19-10 and not showing any of the spark we’d been accustomed to seeing the last few weekends. Special teams was the difference in the second as the Pioneers crawled back into it with two power play goals from Ray and Blackhawk, a short handed goal from Blackhawk and another even-strength addition from newcomer Lovely to make it 5-4 after two. Fifteen year old Connor Ray had his first goal of the season in his first weekend back after being sidelined with injury since November 18th. “The injury felt long but as soon as I was cleared for practices, it felt good to be back on the ice. I was a little nervous coming back to the games but as soon as I took a few shifts, I was happy to be back playing.” Although his goal came on the power play, one of three power play goals for the Pioneers in the game, the power play set up seemed to be disorganized and there were many other missed opportunities with Fox Creek heading to the box 12 times in the game. Ray noted, “I think we need to work on moving the puck on the power play, setting up properly, taking our time and not being fancy. I also think we need to play 5 on 4 focusing on power play in the offensive zone with 110% pressure the whole time.” Kian Bishop, who had another one of the PP goals for the evening, agreed “I feel like we need to slow down and set up better. Too many times we got caught panicking or rushing our passes in the red zone. If we can clean that up, I feel like our power play can capitalize on scoring opportunities and be way more productive.”

And although the Pioneers were more disciplined than the Ice Kings, four penalties in the third impacted the momentum they were building from the second.  A power play goal from Fox Creek in the dying seconds killed any chance of the Pioneers comeback and their fate was sealed in a 7-5 loss in what was otherwise a very tight and back and forth game. Tyrick Blackhawk who had a great performance for the team on Saturday said, “I think what went well for me tonight was being in the right position – our line passed the puck well tonight and communicated a lot.” When asked what he thinks the team needs to work on to close out these tight games, he stated, “I think we still need to work on our discipline as well as the power play.” The Pioneers outshot their opponent 44-35 in the game and if they can increase the quality of those shots, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Despite the loss, the growth of this team has been evident as three of the last five games have been one or two goal games and they have scored three goals per game against some of the top teams in the division. The Pioneers go into the last weekend before the holiday break with a chance to steal a few more wins. You can catch the team on December 16th at 7:30pm at Slave Lake which is sure to be a high checking, high scoring affair after their last match up.  Then, the last home game before the holidays will be on Saturday December 17th at 7:30pm at Gibbons Arena against the Edson Eagles. Wear your best Ugly Christmas Sweater to get into the spirit and cheer the boys on to two wins before the break!