For a team heading into the AJHL playoffs, the Canmore Eagles picked a good time to turn in a couple of solid performances against the number two-ranked team in Canada, the Okotoks Oilers (as of Feb. 26).
On Sunday (March 4), the Oilers edged the Eagles 3-2 in Okotoks for a 24th straight win and the 52nd of the season (52-6-2 for 106 points). On Thursday (March 1), the Oilers downed the Eagles 4-1 at Alex Kaleta Arena.
The seventh-place Eagles (21-37-2 for 44 points) now face the second-place Brooks Bandits (45-14-1 for 91 points) in a best of five first round playoff tilt, with away games Thursday and Friday (March 8-9) and at Alex Kaleta Arena March 11 and 12, if necessary. A fifth game, if needed, would be in Brooks on March 14.
On Sunday, Eagles goalie Logan Dyck turned aside 27 shots in the 3-2 loss. The Eagles fell behind 2-0 on first period goals by Oilers Kaleb Ergang and Tanner Laderoute, before responding with a goal by Max Giangualano in the second.
In the third period, Oiler Zane Kindrachuk netted a shorthanded goal and Eagle Jake Ashton rounded out scoring at 19:48.
“We knew they were meaningless games in the standings,” said coach and GM Andrew Milne, “but they played real hard in both of them. We were worried about getting bad habits, but I thought they were solid games, from our goalies out. Both Thomas (Davis) and Logan (Dyck) made some great saves.”
Davis is slated to start game one in Brooks and Milne said defencemen Travis Verveda, Adamu Tanaka and Jesse Sheen, who have been out for some rest and recovery, may be back for the playoffs. With some holes in the defensive corps, Eagles captain Trevor Van Steinburg will likely remain on the blueline, where he’s played for the last 10 games due to injuries.
An upside to two solid games against the Oilers is that they play a game similar to Brooks, said Milne. “They were educational,” he said, “we could make some mistakes against them that we won’t be able to in the playoffs.”
When it comes to offence, the Eagles will likely rely on the suddenly explosive line combination of the Young brothers, Colton (21 goals) and Alex (21 goals), and Connor Lyons (10 goals). “But they’ll have their hands full,” said Milne, “because they’ll face shutdown guys from Brooks.
“We’ll need everybody firing. Jake Ashton’s got 23 goals and guys like Max (14 goals) and Taden Rattie can score some big goals.”
On Thursday (March 1), the Eagles closed out their home schedule with a 4-1 loss to the Oilers, with Alex Young scoring the lone goal 42 seconds into the second period.
The Eagles had good jump in the first period and a very active Davis had several solid saves in goal.
The Oilers, though, jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals by blueliners Kylor Wall (7:52) and game star Carson Beers (powerplay at 12:15).
In the second, Alex Young scored his 21st of the season after batting a cross-crease pass from his brother and game star Colton past Oilers goalie Riley Morris to make it 2-1.
At 8:07, Oiler Cole Basset got in alone on Davis, beating him with a top shelf wrister for a 3-1 lead.
Down 3-1 in the third period, the Eagles put up a valiant effort, with Davis stoning Oiler Kyle Gordon on a breakaway midway through the period, then adding a couple more solid saves as the Eagles put good offensive zone pressure on Morris and the Oilers’ defence.
At 16:31, though, Oiler Kyle Pasemko snuffed out the Eagles’ attack by putting a rebound behind Davis for a 4-1 win.
The Oilers outshot the Eagles 40-23.
After the Thursday game, Van Steinburg said he was impressed with his team’s all-round effort.
“I thought we played a pretty hard game,” he said, “the goals they got were chances we gave them, but other than that, I thought we were pretty sound.”
Van Steinburg gave the nod to Davis for strong play, as well as the Eagles’ defensive corps. “He (Davis) stopped the chances we ended up giving them and I thought our D played good.”
The Oilers game, he said, is a vote of confidence heading into the playoffs. “We’ve been treating every game like it’s a playoff game and Okotoks is a similar team to Brooks, fast and offensive.
“In this game we had some (scoring) chances; a couple we could have executed better on, but it was a good effort.”
In looking ahead to the playoff tilt with the Bandits, Van Steinburg said, “I think against Brooks it will be physical, offensive and, like Okotoks, their D men like to jump up in the play.”
The captain said his Eagles are relatively injury-free and the team has been resting some players, “so they should be good to go for the playoffs.”
Okotoks gets a first round playoff bye in the south division playoffs, while the third-place Drumheller Dragons host the Calgary Canucks and the Camrose Kodiaks host the Calgary Mustangs.