The club is still looking for it's first exhibition season win as their troubles against the Drayton Valley Thunder continued.
An abundance of imports on the Brooks Bandits roster allowed the Spruce Grove Saints to snag Shane LaVelle.
The Saints acquired LaVelle in exchange for future considerations this past week. LaVelle captained Chaska High School in the United States High School League (USHS) last season before the pandemic shut activity down. He had 29 points in 24 games (15 goals, 14 assists) last season and notched a total of 132 points (66G, 66A) and 61 penalty minutes over 94 total career USHS games.
“Brooks had too many import players so he became expendable. We opened up lines of communication and got a deal done. It’s tough right now adding players. Everybody is so protective, once they have players they don’t want to let them go,” said Saints general manager Rob Sklaruk. “Shane is a big body, he skates really well. He’s a 19-year-old and we’re hoping to have him for a couple of years to hone his skills and watch him develop.”
The club is still looking for it’s first exhibition season win as their troubles against the Drayton Valley Thunder continued. Drayton Valley earned back-to-back 5-2 wins over the weekend to drop the Saints to 0-4 before grinding out a 5-4 shootout win on Monday to move to 0-4-1 on the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s exhibition season.
Though the results have not come Sklaruk said he likes what he has seen from his group. The Saints general manager is confident systems will begin to fall into place as the development season continues.
“I don’t think our record against Drayton Valley is not any indication there’s any reason for panic. I think the games have been really competitive and there are a lot of good things going on. We have a young group and one way to get experience is through games and tough practices. I think you could say our development season has moved into more structured gameplay related stuff,” Sklaruk said.
Sklaruk and head coach Bram Stephen also began to set the Saints leadership group this past week. Veteran Nick Leyer, the last remaining player from the Saints 2017 championship winning roster earned the captaincy while Graham Gamache was named an assistant captain.
Leyer was a key driver in the Saints playoff run prior to the pandemic shutdown after taking on major leadership responsibilities throughout the season. Leyer has notched 52 goals and 54 assists in 160 career games for Spruce Grove.
“Nick has an outgoing personality and comes from a great family. He’s the type of player in a locker room guys gravitate to and just want to be around. He has a wealth of knowledge as a fourth year guy and he’s won a championship with us in 2017-18 season. Nick is going to be huge for our program in terms of passing on tradition and legacy for the young guys,” Sklaruk said.
Gamache impressed when he was given the chance to step into the roster due to injury two seasons ago. Last season he earned a permanent spot on the roster and became a major contributor to the offence. After notching three goals in 10 games as an injury replacement Gamache notched 17 goals and 33 assists for a total of 50 points in 53 games last season.
“Your leadership group is not always your oldest guys. We do feel Graham is going to be one of the top two or three players on our team and we made it known we want him to be part of the leadership group. Where Graham’s biggest assets are is just how he plays the game the right way. Guys on the bench see how he competes,” Sklaruk said.
There will still be plenty of time for the Saints to tinker with their game before the puck drops on any regular season games. The league did send an email to its teams notifying of the possibility of expanding the size of league cohorts.
Nothing has been set in stone but there have been rumblings of an expanded exhibition season in November.
“We’ve been going back and forth with our league. There was a real positive email that came out which said cohorts have been expanded to 150 people which leads to the possibility of five or six teams in pod play. I think they would like to do maybe another round of exhibition games for the month of November but there might be better news coming down in terms of maybe even a regular season in November,” Sklaruk said. “Keep in mind though the biggest thing we need is more fans in the stands. We’re hoping we can get up to a certain capacity with fans in the stands. Whether that is 40 or 50 per cent, I think that will help teams financially.”
The Saints will close out the first scheduled portion of the AJHL exhibition season on Friday in Drayton Valley. A schedule for November has not yet been released.