For those that checked out the Gibbons Pioneers games this weekend, you would have seen a vastly different team on Saturday versus Friday night. Fans were treated to a stellar game on Saturday night at Gibbons Arena as they saw our Pioneers take home their first win of the season after a back and forth match up culminating in a shoot out victory. The energy was palpable throughout the rink and the Pioneers were relentless in their pursuit of the goal. The Pioneers had the momentum shift in their favour after a 5 min penalty kill midway through the first after RJ Eaglebear went to the box for interference. Keegan Vansickle agreed - " The boys rallied around that to kill it off without getting scored on. You know that’s going to bring confidence to a lot of guys knowing that we can shut down Slave short handed and Slave was going to be down after not getting a goal during a 5 minute power play. Definitely after that penalty kill momentum shifted in our favour for sure." Despite heading to the first intermission down 1-0, the shots were even at 9 and the Pioneers held much of the possession. Goaltender Tyler Keyes had uncharacteristically let in the first shot of the game but bounced right back to keep the Pioneers in it. "You kind of just have to not think about it and just keep moving forward and just make sure that you stop the next one."
The second period saw a flurry of goals as the Pioneers had contributions from eventual first star Zago, Vansickle, newcomer St. Arnaud and L'Hirondelle. The Icedogs weren't going to go down easy however and they matched the Pioneers with three goals of their own. The second period was the Pioneers strongest frame, a consistent pattern through many of their games, including Friday night against the Tomahawks. Coach Arsenault noted that "the consistency night to night has been a struggle; however, it was great to see the guys bounce back after such a poor performance Friday. The consistency is a micro goal we are striving to improve." The end of the second period was a little unconventional as Slave Lake's goaltender Philip Lidh was given a delay of game and game misconduct penalty for intentionally knocking the net off its moors - a tactic he seemed to employ more than once during the game. We returned after intermission to play out the remaining 2 mins of the second before switching ends and commencing the third.
The third saw both teams trading goals, with the Pioneers going ahead twice with goals from Zago and Bishop before the Icedogs tied it up again each time. The Pioneers were the better team with respect to possession, shots on goal (59-31) and chances but couldn't get the job done in regulation. A five minute overtime period couldn't solve anything and the Pioneers went to their first shootout. Fans of the team knew at this point that the game was in the bag with confidence in their goaltender, Keyes. Keyes stopped 4 in the shootout making way for teammate Vansickle to seal the victory with his game-winning shootout goal. After the game, Keyes said, "First win for the team is so huge. Just to bring that hope and that energy back to the team is just so important."
One difference maker in this game for the Pioneers was the limited trips to the box - Gibbons had 4 penalties to Slave's 7, an improvement from their previous outings. Discipline is an important aspect to Arsenault's game plan. "We definitely need to continue to play disciplined and grind out the success 5v5 or with a man advantage. The momentum shifts when we take UDPs [undisciplined penalties] and it has cost us all season. We are continuing to work on this part of the game."
The Pioneers swarmed the ice ecstatic with the milestone that has, at times, been close but so far elusive. Of the game winner, Vansickle said, "First win felt great - been a long time coming for sure. All the guys have been working for that. Has been a goal in the locker room and it feels great to finally check that one off and now it’s time to focus on the next game." Coach was proud of his team's dedication stating, "They grinded out the win and played as a unit. We still have a long road ahead of us but we are glad to see the dedication and commitment of the guys and the structure starting to pay off. I'm proud of all the players and it's great that some of the guys who played last year that never had the experience of a win have that now so it's huge for them."
Although it was nice to get the monkey off their back, the Pioneers are looking forward to achieving more milestones and seeing many more games in the win column. Their play in the neutral zone is top of the list of micro-goals. "The line up has been changing and with the new systems in place, it does take some time to develop that skill set particularly with pressure. We need to limit the forced plays leading to turnovers. Comfort with the new systems are goals moving forward." The Pioneers are right back to work this week spending time on this and other goals but you can sense a renewed belief and confidence that change is in fact coming with this team - their motto from the start of the season.
Catch your Pioneers this coming weekend as the exciting game play will surely continue as they face the Icedogs in a rematch on Friday December 2 at 7:30 in Slave Lake. If you can't make the trip, the game will be streamed at GMHL.tv. The following night, they will take on the Northern Alberta Tomahawks at 7:30pm at Gibbons Arena where the boys will try to come out stronger than they did in their last match up with the Tomahawks in Enoch. Come support the team in their quest for another victory - tickets available at the door!