St. Stephen – The excitement at the Garcelon Civic Center Saturday night reached a crescendo following the St. Stephen Aces 5-4 shootout victory against the Amherst Ramblers.
Goalie Jack Grant leaped not once, not twice, but three times as the Aces bench emptied, and consumed the named second star in a fit of celebration, as a thunder of cheers from fans on their feet amalgamated with the excited yells of the players on the ice.
“It’s incredible, every time that we skate out on the ice, and I see the people in the stands, it’s just incredible,” Grant said. “It just shows how much these people love their hockey, and every time I’m in that goal, I try to play as hard as I can just for them.”
Grant was pivotal in keeping the Aces alive during a do-or-die four minute penalty, handed to captain Adam Crowe on a high sticking call a mere 25 seconds into the five minute overtime. The 18-year-old netminder faced six shots to the Aces zero in extra time.
A laugh and “nothing,” was Grant’s reply when asked what was going through his mind in those critical four minutes.
“I didn’t even see the ref’s hand go up,” Grant said after the game, still fully dressed in his gear.
“I heard the whistle going and I was like, ‘oh, must have been a puck out of play’, and then I saw Crowey skating to the box and I almost passed out,” Grant chuckled, as steam escaped from the neck of his jersey in small bursts.
“I was so shocked. But once we lined up for the faceoff, it’s completely game mode. I knew that if we could get that kill, then we’d win that game. I was fighting as hard as I could.”
Minutes before the exuberant celebration, Crowe set out for redemption, the first to face the Ramblers six-foot goalie Julian Galloway in the shootout. Crowe set the tone, burying a shot, high stick side.
“I was so shocked. But once we lined up for the faceoff, it’s completely game mode. I knew that if we could get that kill, then we’d win that game. I was fighting as hard as I could.” – Jack Grant, Aces goalie
Next up: though some may still be getting used to seeing him in a purple jersey, the Ramblers sent up Brady GriffinHefford (the Aces leading scorer last season with 62 points) to a dull rumble of boos, who was shut down by Grant.
Following Griffin-Hefford, Casey Fox beat Galloway through the five-hole. A later shot from Ramblers captain Jordan King, sent wide of the net, sent the Aces into an enthusiastic demonstration of victory.
The Aces started strong in the inaugural minutes with a powerplay goal from Ryan MacDonald (assisted by Felix Gagnon and Branden Dauphinee).
Getting that first goal was everything, Grant explained.
Ravenous for a win with only one prior to this game, the Aces were looking to recover from Friday’s 3-2 home loss against the Summerside Capitals, and also get the jump on the Goliath-like Ramblers – not just big in stature, but also among the league leaders (prior to the match, the Ramblers had three wins and one overtime loss).
“This was the first game that we scored the first goal all year; it was good to get that. Scoring the first goal, the mood completely changes,” Grant said.
“You feel as though you’re on top and you get all that momentum. I think that really helped push us the whole game, especially against a good team like Amherst.”
Midway through the first, the Aces took a 2-0 lead after a beautiful two-on-one rush – with the goal from Crowe, and the assist from Patrick Daley.
The Aces continued the second period in the same strong fashion when a goal from Johnny Foley (assisted by MacDonald and Evan White) brought the Aces to a 3-1 lead.
The Ramblers tied the score 3-3 early in the third; the Aces shortly thereafter answered with a goal that was disallowed, but it didn’t put a kink in the squad’s momentum.
“I think that getting that [no] goal just proved that we were getting those chances,” Grant said. “And that helped us say ‘yeah, we can get one’.”
And that they did – in the form of a powerplay goal from Aiden MacIntosh (assisted by Crowe and Foley). But to the misfortune of the Aces and a visibly upset Grant, the Ramblers tied it 4-4 in the desperate remaining minutes of regulation.
“I never liked to get scored on; I say it’s the worst thing in the world. Every time I get scored on, sometimes my emotions get the best of me, but every single time, whenever we give up a goal, I always do the same thing – I always set up on my right post, just take a deep breath, recover, put that in the back of my mind, and just focus on the faceoff,” Grant explained. “Once that restarts, it’s just basically 0-0 again.”
Like Grant, coach Phil Richer said a strong start was paramount.
“It’s not that we played bad Friday night, we just had bad bounces going our way, so we ended up in a loss, and I thought we carried the play most of the game, but [Saturday] it was to come out strong and win our game.
“We made adjustments with our game plan … Amherst is a very experienced hockey team, a huge hockey team, and they have a lot of offensive weapons, and we kept them quiet.
“Yes we gave up too many shots,” Richer said, acknowledging the Ramblers 37 shots on net to the Aces 23.
“But they were outside perimeter shots,” he added. “We’re happy with our game, having that result tonight is great for their confidence.”
The Aces wreaked havoc on Galloway’s goals against and save percentage; prior to the game, Galloway was third in the league with a 1.99 goals against, and .94 save percentage.
“We kept trying to say, ‘boys we need to put pucks to the net and create chances’,” said Richer. “Create battles so that we can be there instead of just having one shot, stop, out they go. We did; we did a great job of that tonight, and it paid off.”
The boys didn’t panic, they said, ‘yep, we’re gonna do it, we’ve got to block shots with everything we have. If we have to block shots with our face, we’ll do it’.” – Phil Richer, Aces coach
Back to the integral four minute penalty kill in overtime: “oh, that was huge,” Richer said. “Killing that penalty was huge,” he emphasized.
“The boys didn’t panic, they said, ‘yep, were gonna do it, we’ve got to block shots with everything we have. If we have to block shots with our face, we’ll do it’.
“They didn’t panic, they stuck to the structure we’ve been trying to do, and it was a huge boost in confidence.”
And finally, Richer’s first star?
“Jack was phenomenal tonight. First star for sure, and that’s typical Jack Grant. Nobody has seen him in the past, maybe he didn’t get that opportunity in past years, but we know, I know, our team and organization knows what Jack Grant can do. This is the real Jack Grant.”
The Aces are slated to hit the road this week, in two back to back games in Nova Scotia – the first a meeting with the South Shore Lumberjacks (3- 2), slated for Thursday, the second a tilt with the Yarmouth Mariners (4-1) Friday.
“These [home] games just prove that we can beat the best teams around,” Grant said, smiling.
“So going into these games against South Shore and Yarmouth, who both have winning records, I fell like all the boys are going to come together, we know that we can beat these teams.
“Our first three road games were pretty tough – three home openers, but overall I feel like we can do it. “I have confidence in us; all the confidence in the world.”
The Aces are scheduled to meet the Campbellton Tigers in the next home game on Oct. 21 with a 7 p.m. puck drop.