The Pontiacs saw two hard-fought losses last week, finished with a welcome victory on Sunday. A Sunday afternoon win against the Okotoks Oilers at the RJ Lalonde Arena was just a taste of the team’s potential, said Pontiacs’ forward Chayce Schmidt.
BONNYVILLE – Skating into the thick of the 2022-23 season, the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs are still working on mastering their team dynamic after entering a season filled with changes from the team’s management to new recruits donning the Pontiacs’ jersey.
A Sunday afternoon win against the Okotoks Oilers at the RJ Lalonde Arena was just a taste of the team’s potential, said Pontiacs’ forward Chayce Schmidt.
The Pontiacs saw two hard-fought losses last week, finished with a welcome victory on Sunday.
On Wednesday, the Jr. A Bonnyville team travelled north to take on the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, losing 3-1. The Pontiacs spent the game playing from behind, always one point below. In hopes of tying up the score and taking the match into overtime, the Pontiacs pulled their goalie, which ultimately resulted in the Oil Barons final two-point lead.
Saturday night at the RJ, the Pontiacs faced off against the Drumheller Dragons. By the end of the second period, the Pontiacs looked confident with a 3-2 lead. But an explosive return by the Dragons saw an additional three goals added to the away team’s score.
A goal by Jack Budd in the last two minutes of the game was not enough to even Saturday night’s final score.
While it would have been easy to let the week weigh down the Pontiacs’ spirits, the home team brought the same ferocity and passion to the ice on Sunday as they had in their previous two matches. However, this time the Pontiacs’ determination and perseverance was highlighted on the scoreboard.
“You always hope for having one goal more than the opponent,” Head Coach Mario Pouliot, told Lakeland This Week, following Sunday’s game.
“For us, we knew before the game, we were playing against a really good team and a fast team. [Okotoks] is very quick to counterattack.”
Coming off a tough loss the night before, where the Pontiacs’ performance was not reflected by the final score, it was imperative that the home team only looked forward to the match ahead.
“We were thinking we were deserving of the win last night, but all the credit to the boys, they came here today with a positive mindset and even though we were trailing two nothing after the first [period], we were pleased with how we were playing expect for the score,” said Pouliot.
Okotoks has speed and intense defensive pressure that can easily switch into a counterattack from a stripped puck or a sloppy pass.
“So, it’s really important to cut their time and space, [and] be on top of them,” said Pouliot. “The best way to defend is to attack and we generate a lot of time possession that way.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, there is not one area that needs to be focused on but all areas of the game, expressed the head coach.
“We are working on building to play solid games,” he said. “For us, [we] have to keep working on the offensive side of the puck, creating time possession while protecting the puck, while moving the puck, while being dangerous, all in a tight area.”
In a league that has a deep pool of talent and is evenly matched in many ways, Pouliot says a team must mentally show up to the rink before each game.
“There’s a lot of parity in the league so far… every team every night can beat another team,” he said.
On Sunday, the Pontiacs showed up ready and hungry for the win, giving the home fans exactly what they wanted.
“It’s always fun when we are seeing our players making good plays, not one play in particular, it’s all the plays one after the other. It’s fun seeing our boys making good plays under pressure and that’s good for the confidence of our team,” Pouliot added.
The best is yet to come
From the vantage point of the ice, Schmidt says the team has not even started to show home audiences their full potential.
“We have a good club… I mean, we came out in the first 10 minutes of second period, and we scored four goals. So yeah, that shows how we can play,” said Schmidt.
Heading into a season filled with massive changes for the Pontiacs’ organization, paired with many new faces on the bench and 11 rookie players finding their spot within the team, everyone has settling in to do.
“I think the problem was at the start, it wasn’t X’s and O’s, and it wasn’t [a lack of] determination and hard work. It was more of building a brotherhood and that’s a big part of the game. When there’s no brotherhood, you’re not going to have a dynamic out there as well. And I think that’s what’s changing right now,” said Schmidt.
During Sunday’s game, the Pontiacs finally connected puck to mesh, but all hard work goes unrecognized when players can’t find the back of the net. Especially when their opponent can.
“The scoreboard didn’t show how the first period went at all. We played exactly how we wanted to play, it was matter of finishing our chances,” said Schmidt.
For the first period, the Okotoks lead the Pontiacs 2-0. It wasn’t until Schmidt earned the Pontiacs’ first goal of the night unassisted that the home team found the drive to send three more pucks into the back of the net during the second period.
The Pontiacs headed into the third period tied 4-4.
The comeback in the second period was made even sweeter with two additional unanswered goals in the beginning and end of the third period, both by St. Paul native Nicolas Beaudoin, resulting in a 6-4 win.
“We played well today, but we are way better than that and I hope the crowd knows that.”
Schmidt added that it would be nice to play in front of a larger home crowed but added, “We’ve got to prove ourselves as well.”
The Bonnyville Pontiacs are currently fourth in the North Division and eighth overall in the AJHL. The Pontiacs have 12 wins to their record and nine losses.
The Pontiacs will play at the RJ again on Wednesday, Nov. 16, against the Whitecourt Wolverines, before heading on the road again. Puck drops at 7 p.m.