Pair of wins send Canmore Eagles soaring
Legitimate scoring chances. Tight as a drum defence. Above .500 record: these are terms not normally associated with the Canmore Eagles.
However, after the team’s best AJHL start since 2009, hope springs for the home team following a pair of victories.
After a convincing 4-2 defeat of the Whitecourt Wolverines (formally the St. Albert Steel) with Ty Swabb in goal for their home opener on Friday (Sept. 14), the Eagles shut down the Spruce Grove Saints by a 4-1 score, Saturday (Sept. 15).
Zack Rassell, looking bigger, stronger and faster than last year, had his second consecutive three-point night. The Eagles will try to extend that streak to three in a row on Friday (Sept. 21) against the Drumheller Dragons at 7 p.m. at Alex Kaleta Arena.
In the meantime, the players are praising a new attitude around the club.
“It feels like a completely different team. There’s a different atmosphere. We’re an older team this year too so that helps,” said Rassell.
“We’re melding better as a group. We’re working hard in practice and you know what, we’re aiming to make the playoffs and do something special,” said Connor Hoekstra, currently one of the league’s goal scoring leaders.
The increased confidence was evident against Spruce Grove. Hoekstra took advantage of a power play opportunity halfway through the first period, ripping a snap shot past Saints goaltender Dasan Sydora from the left side. Connor Wilson’s brilliant feed set up the goal and the Eagles settled down.
Five minutes later, Rassell pushed into the offensive zone with a huge individual effort, releasing a shot, while getting knocked to the ice, which found the back of the net. Jeremy Margeson and Luke Simpson picked up assists.
The Eagles kept rolling in the second period when Ciaron Driscoll’s weak point shot made its way through a crowd and eluded Sydora. Rassell and Ashton McLeod earned helpers.
Unrelenting on the attack, Jordan Revie added an insurance marker, tipping in the puck from the side of the net with 18 seconds left in the period.
Cam Barnes was solid when tested by the Saints, and only let in one goal midway through the third. His performance showed he’s ready to challenge for the team’s top goaltending spot.
Head coach Andrew Milne said the moves made at last year’s trade deadline paved the way for early success.
“We’ve worked for years and made decisions to allow this. I’m really happy with the way we played.”
The Eagles also played smarter hockey and Milne said the players are buying into the coaching system.
“They’re understanding the way the coaching staff wants them to play is working,” Milne said. “This year, we’re playing methodically. In the past we’d just try to work hard for 60 minutes and hope for the best. This game, we played a contain style in the third period.”
Shutting down the Spruce Grove power play is the key to success, Milne said, and the Eagles did just that.
“Their powerplay is usually operating at 25 to 30 per cent efficiency, so we had to make sure we were disciplined,” he said.
The head coach is also happy he appears to have two top goalies, but isn’t worried about a goaltending controversy.
“Both are competitive and both want to be successful. (Ty) Swabb is 20 years old and wants a scholarship and Barnes (who’s 17) said that’s a priority. That shows the maturity of Cam Barnes.”
After facing Drumheller, the Eagles hit the road for games against the Calgary Canucks (Sept. 22) and Okotoks Oilers (Sept. 25), before returning on Oct. 6 to host the Canucks. They expect left winger Paul Lamoureux to return from injury for the trip.
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