The rust was evident from puck drop, but the skill shone through for the Fort St. John Flyers in a 4-3 win on Saturday night at North Peace Arena.
The Senior Flyers opened the North Peace Hockey League season against the new look Grande Prairie Athletics, who returned on the weekend from a one-year hiatus.
From the outset, the Athletics took major advantage of the sloppy Flyers’ play, and carried a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes. Penalty trouble plagued the Flyers early, who looked to be surprised at the speed of the Grande Prairie.
“I thought they were one of the fastest teams we’ve played in the last two years. It’s nice to have another team like that where games are going to be important to win. The competitiveness just makes our league that much stronger,” Flyers head coach Andrew Leriger said.
The penalty trouble for Fort St. John was mitigated in the third period, and Leriger was quick to credit his experienced line up for the quick turnaround in final 20 minutes when they outscored the Athletics 3-1.
“Number one we have an experienced group of guys. Conditioning is still an issue. Getting in game shape— Grande Prairie is fast and they looked good out there. Our guys just knew they had to step it up a little bit,” he said.
“In this league it is always special teams. We know we’re going to get penalties. First game too, guys are a little bit excited. The adrenaline is going and they get a little bit carried away with their sticks. Our guys know they have to play the game a little more, use their feet. It’s back to condition, if they aren’t in (good) condition they are using their sticks, hooking, hold and slashing and we’re getting called on it.”
Devon Greyeyes, Brennen Giroux and Jeff Shipton were the Flyers third period goal scorers.
Troy Hunt made 31 saves in the win for the Flyers.
Chemistry is also ever-evolving for the Flyers, with four regulars out of the lineup Saturday and expected to miss at least two more weeks, Leriger has been forced to rely on a few young and different faces.
“Marshall Sidwell is new, he took a year off last year, Cole Calliou is back with us and he represents a lot of speed,” Leriger said.
“Then we have Cody Hildebrand, he’s taken a few years off hockey. Played with the Huskies a few years back. It’s going to take him some time to get used to it. But I’m excited. I’m excited about our defensemen, we have a lot of defenseman and we have a lot of veteran defensemen.”
The Flyers will travel to Spirit River to take on the defending league champion Rangers Thursday night before welcoming the Falher Pirates to Fort St. John on Saturday, Nov. 5.