St. Stephen – It was the culmination of all the work the team has put in to this point.
The St. Stephen Aces played a game of hockey that was beautiful to watch Saturday night against the Miramichi Timberwolves – winning 5-2 over the formidable team.
“Tonight was a really controlled, fast, hockey game, that we’ve been looking for for a long time,” said Aces Head Coach Emery Olauson.
“Home this weekend feels pretty good, to play in front of the home crowd and play like that.”
The Aces returned to the home ice at the Garcelon Civic Center after several days on the road, playing regular season and exhibition games.
And the benefit to being on the road?
“Lots of team bonding experiences,” said Associate Coach, Bill Rotheisler. “It was a great opportunity for (Brandon) Costa. He was able to come in on our day off and get acquainted with the boys on the road – the timing was perfect.”
Costa, who dons no. 26, the newest addition to the Aces roster, hails from Castlegar, BC, is a former teammate of no. 25, Everett Hicks, and has previously played under the coaching of Rotheisler.
“If your team identity is going to be speed, you should go find the fastest players you can find,” said Olauson.
“Costa’s a very fast player – he’s gritty.”
And as is the way with junior A hockey, players come and go. As Costa arrives, so Alex Engan has left the team, and has headed back out west to be closer to family.
“Engan has headed west coast, closer to home,” said Olauson. “He just needs go develop a little bit more.”
Back to the weekend action, Friday’s game against the Western Summerside Capitals wasn’t the Aces strongest showing, falling 6-2 to the formidable opponents.
“Overall as a whole didn’t play very well last game, but there were definitely moments,” said Rotheisler.
“That’s why we’ve stuck with this group we have. When you have a young group like that, there are definitely some frustrating times, but because of those good moments, you commit to the group that you have as long as there’s progress.”
“The guys have consistently done more and more things well,” said Olauson of the win against the Timberwolves. “Our mental lapses have gotten shorter. Last night (Friday) we played against a really great hockey team, and our mental lapses were really short, but really big.
“Tonight we had fewer of them, which there’s always going to be at this level when you have good teams pressuring you.”
“A lot of credit to our forwards for making sure they were aware,” said Rotheisler.
“We try to encourage our D to be active and do a lot, but in order to do that – it doesn’t happen without forwards who understand and buy in.
“I thought R-Mac (no. 23, Ryan MacDonald) played a defensibly responsible game. Hicksey (no. 25, Everett Hicks) always does. Everyone down the middle was a rock for their line.”
“The puck movement was great,” added Olauson.
“We talk about being fast, and sometimes there’s not that much evidence of it because the other team has the puck, but tonight we did an exceptionally good job at getting it back, and we used our speed for defending the puck and getting it back.
“Today was the biggest step forward on that aspect.
“Today the guys were really patient and played the long game – played the 60 minute game – and the more you do that – for our team, we’re not gonna be the home run team who gets 10 breakaways – but a relentless pressure and relentless speed, and tonight obviously we broke them down and scored as many goals as we needed to, and got good goaltending when we needed to and big penalty kills as well.
“Today we feel good about the game. Yesterday’s game, we played a lot of great segments, just a lot of those segments were bookended by really poor decisions and bad breakdowns,” said Olauson.
“We dictated the pace, and that’s huge,” added Rotheisler.
“There’s times when defensively there’s breakdowns, but as long as you feel like you’re controlling the situation – there’s always gonna be shots against – most of their stuff was a lot from the outside, and the stuff that wasn’t, Shawn ( no. 29, goal tender Shawn Wiranata) did a great job with some point-blank stuff – but our guys did a great job clearing the front of the net – that’s the hardest our D has played,” he said.
“Yesterday we felt like we were rolling out the red carpet. They didn’t make it tough.
“Today was a team effort.
“The next step is making sure we can do this again.”
The Aces hit the ice again Thursday night in PEI, again meeting the Summerside Western Capitals, and play at home on Saturday against the Campbellton Tigers. Puck drop, as always, is 7 p.m., and tickets are available at the civic centre.