By Tyler King
It’s often darkest before the dawn in hockey; and it was a powerful sunrise for the MOB on Saturday afternoon in a 2-0 shutout of the Calgary Mustangs.
Finally, we were back to seeing the type of performance that typified early September; defensively dominant, offensively productive, consistent, and generally in control of the game.
Perhaps it didn’t fit that mold perfectly; the MOB did give up 20 shots in the third period after holding Calgary to just 15 through the first two periods combined. But a breakout performance from goaltender Jayden Sittler stole the show.
The 18-year old who nearly made the Kootenay Ice roster in the WHL this year was coming off two very shaky starts on the road that had followed up a more than passable debut win against the Calgary Canucks at the AJHL showcase. But road losses in Whitecourt and Canmore had raised a few question marks.
“This week, I thought he really worked hard on his game, paid attention to detail, did some extra stuff, and that always pays off,” said head coach Curtis Hunt of his goaltender, who stopped all 36 shots he faced.
“Huntsy said I had to work a little bit harder,” said Sittler himself after the game, “so I went into practice knowing I would hopefully get a start and worked my ass off out there. I played hard, and it pays off in the end.”
Key to Sittler’s rebound game was extremely good positioning. The MOB netminder rarely found himself scrambling to make saves; not because chances weren’t coming to the Mustangs, but rather because he didn’t need to make drastic moves to get in proper position.
“I thought he was big and square in the net, so the pucks he didn’t see still hit him,” said Hunt. “That was just because of real structure in his game.”
“I was able to find my net, and battle through that traffic even better,” Sittler added. “Even if I couldn’t see it, it was just hitting me. I was either lucky, or whatever you want to call it, but it was good from my point of view.”
It was a vital bounceback for a Barons team that would have fallen to a .500 points percentage in the standings if it hadn’t pulled off something other than a regulation loss.
While there were disappointed fans after the team’s 2-1 loss to Camrose on Friday night, it has to be noted that the Kodiaks are the top-ranked team in the AJHL, and save for a late lapse in discipline by the MOB – a neutral zone slashing penalty that set up the Kodiaks game-winner on a power play – the game had been destined for overtime.
But now the Barons embark on their final road trip to Lloydminster of this regular season, where they will take on the self-styled league title contenders, the Bobcats, for two straight games on Friday and Saturday.
“We’re going to just take some time and regroup,” said Hunt of the gameplan to prepare for this weekend. “We’ve got some new faces coming in the next couple of days, we’re going to have a nice day in Fort McKay Tuesday, but on Wednesday it’s time to buckle down and get focused on the weekend ahead, but certainly one game at a time.”
With the one-third mark of the season approaching, and the Spruce Grove Saints continuing to extend their usual early season winning streak to create separation on the rest of the North standings, every game will begin to take on greater and greater significance as the season progresses.
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