Dragons Split Home Opening Weekend – Coach Curran’s Recap

Written by Coach Curran

The Dragons were looking for our first win of the season last Friday after starting our first three games on the road, and we got our wish with a 4-2 win over the Calgary Mustangs on opening night.

This was a game that really showed our fans that this team with its youth movement, has a lot of ability and exciting potential. We have good speed, move the puck well and we play hard, and you could see that on Friday. Of course, you could also see some young mistakes, but as we work together, as we grow our understanding of the game and our confidence improves, we will only continue to get better.

With a great home crowd nearly 800 strong and rookie goaltender Hunter Virostek between the pipes, the Dragons came out strong in the first period and had several great scoring chances, but the young Mustangs goalie was up to the challenge making some clutch saves. After the first period both teams went back to their locker rooms scoreless.

The Dragons came out hard again in the second period, and rookie defenseman Bradley Stonnell put us on the scoreboard first with a wrist shot from the point that sailed past a screened Mustangs goalie for his first goal of the season. We scored again quickly to make it 2-0 on a great passing play that rookie defenseman Blake Kleiner finished for his second of the season. It seemed like we had the momentum, but we took a penalty and the Mustangs scored on the powerplay to make it 2-1 and they were back in the game. Minutes later, Dragons rookie forward Leif Mattson responded with his first goal of the season, a five-hole shot that put us up 3-1. Shortly after, we took another penalty but this time we scored shorthanded as Dragons top-scorer Jordan Taupert notched his third of the season. Before the period expired, the Mustangs capitalized on a turnover and we headed to the dressing room after the second period leading 4-2.

The third period saw end-to-end action with both goalies playing strong and making key saves. Both teams were scoreless in the third and we took the game 4-2 for our first win of the season.

Overall, the game started off the way I hoped with lots of energy from our guys and lots of speed. The second period we started strong again and capitalized on our chances but we did get away from our structure and we got sloppy. We gave up a few odd-man rushes later in the game but Virostek did his job and made several key saves. Every game is a learning experience and I keep saying to our players that we will be stronger as a group than as a bunch of individuals. I’m happy for the boys as they worked hard and deserved the win.

I also want to say a big thank you to all the staff and volunteers who made the Home Opener a big success. There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes to make something like this happen that not everybody sees.

On Saturday we faced the Whitecourt Wolverines, one of the top-ranked teams in the North this year. This was a tough test for the Dragons as Whitecourt is a much older team with a lot of experience in the league. We dropped the contest 3-2, but not without a great effort from our boys.

In the first period the Wolverines came our strong and took the lead after the first period 1-0 on a shot that redirected off a Dragons defenseman and into the net. The Wolverines controlled much of the play in the first period but our goalie, Dane Dow, played strong and kept us in the game.

The second period was much of the same as the Wolverines kept pouring it on, but just over halfway through the period their defenseman coughed up the puck and veteran forward Slater Dykema pounced on the opportunity to even the score at 1-1.

In the third period, the Wolverines added two more goals, both of which were redirected shots that Dow could do little about. The Dragons never quit, however, and we pulled the goalie with a few minutes left. With the extra man on the attack, Dykema notched is second of the night to cut the Wolverines’ lead to one goal. However, that is as far as the Dragons would get and the game ended up 3-2 for Whitecourt.

Overall, this was a great test for us and although Whitecourt deserved this win I was very proud of the boys for never giving up all night and battling hard through three periods. There were a lot of positives in this game and if we get this effort every night everyone will see what this team will become. Another positive from this weekend is that both our goalies played very strong and their confidence definitely got a boost.

The Dragons next game is Thursday, September 29 when we take on the Drayton Valley Thunder in the AJHL Showcase in Camrose. Next home game action is Friday, October 7 vs. the Canucks.

Photo by Andrew Beattie