Eagles swept from playoffs by Olds Grizzlys
Thursday, Mar 16, 2017 06:00 am
Even in their worst nightmares, the Canmore Eagles couldn’t foresee themselves getting swept from the AJHL playoffs by the lowly Olds Grizzlys.
Despite finishing 37 points ahead of the Grizzlys in the regular season, despite team co-captains Matt Forchuk and Logan Ferguson finishing 1-2 in league scoring, despite outshooting the Grizzlys by nearly 40 shots in each game, the unthinkable came to be Monday (March 12) when Landon Gross scored at the 15:48 mark of overtime to eliminate the Eagles from the playoffs.
Head coach and general manager Andrew Milne had no explanation for the loss. In all his years in hockey, Milne said he’s never run into a similar situation, where his team badly outplayed their opposition, but lost three games in a row.
“It stings a lot. I feel for the guys, the staff and the organization. It’s difficult when we’ve worked really hard to get to a situation like this. We did a lot of good things,” Milne said.
“To exit the way we did was disappointing. We analyzed this pretty deeply and at the end of the day I don’t know what more we could have done.”
Ominous signs were evident in game one.
The Grizzlys scored three times on their first six shots, and then held on against a 56-shot barrage en route to a 4-3 win in Canmore on Thursday (March 9). Grizzlys 20-year-old goaltender Ben Giesbrecht, who had only won six times all season, was brilliant in net.
Brett Stewart, Forchuk and Ferguson scored for the Eagles, while Thomas Davis was rattled by the early goals in net. Olds succeeded in blocking passing lanes and blocking shots, forcing the Eagles’ attack to the outside. However, Canmore still carried the play. There was no way that would happen two games in a row, Milne thought.
“We knew, we knew their goaltender could play well. I just didn’t think he could play that well for that long,” Milne said. “We had 60 shots, but I bet we had 100 shot attempts. You throw those kind of numbers and lose, that’s deflating.”
Giesbrecht was even stronger in game two. As the Eagles refined their attack, and got more pucks on net, Giesbrecht was near unbeatable on his way to a 3-2 win.
Braden Saretsky scored twice as the Eagles launched 59 shots at the Grizzlys. But in true rope-a-dope fashion, the Grizzlys capitalized on their chances, and hung the loss on the Eagles and goaltender Ryan Bontorin.
The Eagles felt snakebit, as even when Giesbrecht kicked out juicy rebounds, the Eagles were always a millisecond off cashing them in.
“We got shocked after game two,” Milne said. “We feel we threw everything we had at them, and things didn’t go our way. We lost momentum.”
In game three in Olds, the Eagles finally staked out a two goal lead. Adam Tisdale scored twice, and Stewart added another to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead by the halfway mark of the second period. The Grizzlys offence sprung to life in the third, as they scored once with 4:30 left, and tied it up with 26 second left in the period.
In overtime, Gross sealed the deal and ended the Eagles’ best season in 20 years.
“In game three, they got two lucky bounces on pucks, and bounces we didn’t see all series,” Milne said. “After the game, I didn’t know what to say.”
The entire team took Monday off to regroup. Team veterans were incredulous. It was a sour end to a strong season, and Milne said he has to take it as a sign of parity in the league, and the fact his team ran into an extremely hot goaltender.
“Hats off to him for being able to do that. We had 60 shots a night and scored three goals. He needed a lot of things to go his way, and he did. Such is life,” Milne said.
The game was the last for many of the team’s superstars. Forchuk, Ferguson, Saretsky, Bontorin, Stewart, Kyle Pauls and Dondre Watson will all graduate from the AJHL.
“We know we lose some offence, but we are returning with six defencemen and a starting goalie in Davis. We probably won’t win games 6-5, but we’ll have to win games 3-2. The other side of it is Adam Tisdale, Coy Prevost, Bryce Platt and Colton Young. These guys are highly offensive … and 30 goals for each of them isn’t unreasonable,” Milne said.
Milne said he’s never seen a series like the one with Olds in all of his time in hockey, but he said that’s what keeps things interesting.