The Athabasca Aces have played in the past month the way they would have liked to all season.
The Aces returned home late Sunday night with three out of a possible four points in their back pocket after defeating the Hinton Heat 8-5 Sunday afternoon and losing 3-2 in overtime Saturday night in Edson.
“If you told me going into this past weekend we would get three of four points, I would have been pretty happy,” explained head coach Tony Kiselyk.
Those three points could have easily been four if it weren’t for some late magic by the Edson Ice on Saturday.
The Aces led the Ice 2-0 with less than five minutes to go in the game, but after the Ice cut the lead in half late in the game, a deflected goal tied the contest up.
Overtime solved nothing for the two teams, but the shootout saw five of six shooters score.
Unfortunately for the Aces, all three of the Ices’ shooters scored.
By the end of the Sunday night, the Aces found themselves starting to crawl out of the bottom of the standings. Sunday’s win put them ahead of the Heat for the first time this season.
The result Saturday was the second straight game in which the Aces played in a tight, low-scoring game.
The Aces were also able to gain three of the four possible points without the services of either of their goaltenders, so they used the help of a former midget ‘AA’ goalie on their road trip.
“Carlen Lyle played awesome for us. I don’t know where we would have been without him this past weekend,” exclaimed Kiselyk.
Athabasca starting goalie Jeff Creaser wasn’t able to make the trip, and back-up goalie Eric Axelson was unavailable due to medical reasons, so Lyle more than filled the void for the Aces.
The western swing for the Aces was the final two games before the Christmas break begins this week.
The Aces now sit with a record of 5-10-0-2, which puts the team in sixth place.
Like last season, the Aces go into this year’s Christmas break playing some pretty good hockey, but the Aces’ hope history won’t repeat itself this January.
“Last year we went into the Christmas break with some momentum and had a real good chance to make up some ground, but we didn’t do that. We have to learn from last year and keep our focus going into this New Year and make sure we do use this momentum,” noted Kiselyk.
Early on in the season, the Aces were having real trouble keeping the puck out of their own end of the ice and their players out of the penalty box, but in the month of December the Aces have really turned things around.
The Aces’ recent discipline and smart play is the biggest reason they are starting to win and compete against the better teams in the NCHL.
“The way we were playing before just wasn’t acceptable, so we sat down and realized what we had been doing wasn’t working and we needed to change. We have cleaned up our act recently because we’re cutting down on penalties and mistakes in our own end,” explained Kiselyk.
In Sunday’s contest, the Aces only had 11 skaters for the entire game, but only took three minor penalties the entire game.
Athabasca was not only able to overcome a short bench in Hinton, but also a blown lead in the second period.
After the Aces found themselves up 4-0 early in the second, the Heat stormed back to tie the game up by the end of the period.
“As a coach, when you get up 3-0, 4-0, you can get complacent, so we sat down in the second intermission and got back focused for the third,” said Kiselyk.
The talk seemed to work, because the Aces scored four third period goals compared to the Heat’s one to take the two points.
The Aces posted a record of 3-1-1 in December, while in November they could only manage one win in eight games.
Athabasca will return to the ice in Slave Lake on Jan. 8 against the Winterhawks and play their first home game of 2011 against the Legal Vipers on Jan. 9.