St. Stephen Aces flying high after 19 goals scored over two nights

Kate Scott/Courier Brady Griffin-Hefford of the St. Stephen Aces fends off a member of the Summerside Capitals Capitals as he nabs a loose puck during a game Saturday, at the Garcelon Civic Center. The Aces defeated the Capitals in back-to-back home games, with a 9-5 win Friday, and a 10-6 win Saturday.

Team climbs out of division cellar with four-point weekend

St. Stephen – The St. Stephen Aces have, for the first time in franchise history, climbed out of the basement of the Eastlink north division, and with 29 points, surpassed the Campbellton Tigers (26 points).

The team capitalized on the Summerside Western Capitals losing streak (the Caps have now lost six of the last seven) and trounced the visitors in back-to back weekend games, scoring 19 goals in the two home wins.

The Aces became a juggernaut in Friday’s game – and put the Caps away in the second period, scoring a whopping seven goals.

The third period became chippy, and resulted in two one-game suspensions for both the Aces and the Capitals; Alex Lafrenière (second fight, same stoppage), and Ben Reid (third man in). Avery Belcourt was suspended indefinitely, and is awaiting a disciplinary review following a fight with Capitals alternate Joshua Pugsley, who underwent jaw surgery following the same fight.

The Aces ended the game 9-5.

Beginning Saturday’s game down five players, without previously injured Hunter Wood (lower-body) and Jackson Atkinson (the 20-year-old defenseman sliced a tendon in his hand, and underwent surgery Monday), as well as the three suspended players, the Aces still came out with a strong start in front of 940 eager fans, and quickly overwhelmed the Capitals with a 5-1 lead at the end of the first.

With three Aces goals in the second, and two in the third, the team finished 10-6.

Coach Josh Hepditch said a strong start was important after the Friday result, knowing the Capitals were looking for revenge after Friday’s loss.

“We knew it was going to be difficult. … I think as a group [Friday] we were really unsatisfied with our third period. [The Capitals] show they’re a team that’s got no quit and we knew that they were going to come back hard tonight, so start again was key,” Hepditch said.

“We just had to find a way, plain and simple. … At the end of the day, there’s going to be games that are easy to win, there’s going to be games that are tough to win. No matter what, you’ve got to find a way to do it. I was proud of the small group we had, they found a way for sure.”

Now sitting three points atop the Tigers, the Aces are hunting division rivals, the Woodstock Slammers – the team sits eight points ahead of the Aces, currently in the final playoff spot.

The Aces are slated to meet the Slammers in a road game Friday, and as the team prepares, Hepditch said they are treating the meeting with a game seven mentality.

“We just wanna keep playing the way that we are; all we can do is worry about our group. We tell the guys it gets difficult watching the scores every night and looking at the standings. Even if Woodstock loses from here on out, if we don’t win, nothing’s going to happen.

“We just have to focus on getting our wins and see where the chips fall,” Hepditch said, and gave a nod to the fan support over the course of the weekend.

“The fans were great all weekend; which is another huge bonus. We hope that they keep supporting us and pushing as we go for a playoff push.”

Adam Crowe, 19, played two spectacular games, and earned 10 points in the outings, including two goals Friday, and a hat trick Saturday.

“He’s a guy that always works,” Hepditch said of Crowe.

“Hardest worker on the ice, off the ice – he’s worked for his consistency, which is the biggest thing for him. He shows up every night, you can see everything in him getting better. From the coaching staff, we’re really pleased with him; he’s playing excellent.”

Following Saturday’s victory, Crowe said “it’s a great feeling” to earn 10 points in two games, but humbly used the opportunity to credit his teammates for their hard work.

“I can’t take all the credit; I have to give credit to all the guys in there, working hard every day and battling hard,” Crowe said, gesturing toward the Aces dressing room.

With the last three big home wins (9-3, 9-5, 10-6), Crowe said its hard work that has been working well for the team.

“We’re just working hard, and not giving up. We’re battling every shift, and scoring goals,” Crowe said, adding the team is hopeful for playoff chances.

“We’re right there. We’re not giving up; we know we have a chance we’re going to keep working at it.”

In anticipation of Friday’s meeting with the Slammers, Crowe said the team plans to “come out every day and work our hardest because we know it’s a big game.”

“We can’t get too confident; we’ve just gotta know we can play our game, and do our thing.”

The Aces are slated to host the next home game on Feb. 17 at the Garcelon Civic Center as the team takes on the Yarmouth Mariners. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.

kate@stcroixcourier.ca