In the end, a first-round playoff match between the Canmore Eagles and Brooks Bandits played out much as one might expect from a second place versus seventh tilt – a sweep by the higher seed.
On Sunday (March 11), the Bandits downed the Eagles 4-0 at Alex Kaleta Arena to complete a 3-0 sweep in the best-of-five first round, outscoring Canmore 15-1 in the process.
Things got off to a bad start when Bandit Mack Hancock scored just 1:38 into the first period. The deal was then pretty much sealed when, with the Bandits carrying play to the Eagles, Hancock got in alone on Eagles goalie and game star Thomas Davis for a shorthanded goal and a 2-0 lead at 7:57.
The Eagles tightened up their play through a scoreless second period, as Davis stood tall in shutting down Bandits shooters.
In the third period, the Eagles had their chances but a very physical Brooks squad, backed by solid goaltending by Mitchel Benson, found the back of the net twice more, with goals from Louis Jamernik and Ryan Mahshie. Several Eagles limped off the ice during the game after taking hits from the more physical Bandits, including Quinton Ong, who took an elbow to the head after a solid scoring chance.
At the buzzer, the Bandits had outshot the Eagles 41-20.
After the game, dejected blueliners Trevor Van Steinburg and Travis Verveda, who had played their last junior A game in the loss, as 20 year olds, were pretty grim.
“We had two solid starts to games (March 8-9),” said Van Steinburg. “I thought we had a good start in the first game of the series, but kind of fell apart at the end. In the second game, we ran into some penalty trouble. But for the first bit, we stuck right with them.
“Today, I thought it was the same thing.”
“I thought in the first game we battled hard,” said Verveda. “Obviously it was unfortunate to lose the first game there, and the second game, same thing, we came out hard in the first period, got into some penalty trouble in the second period.”
While the Bandits playoff series loss was his last in junior A, Van Steinburg said he’ll have fond memories of Canmore. “This organization, this town, they really brought me in and I’m thankful for that. It’s a hell of a place to finish your hockey career.”
Van Steinburg added the Bandits’ frustrating physical play was a factor in the playoff series. “They’re really good at turning the game into something like that. Today I thought the officiating was a bit questionable. It’s hard to play a physical game when you have (Eagles) penalties like that. But you can’t control that.”
Andrew Milne, Eagles coach and general manager, said, “I thought tonight we were good at times and obviously our back end was depleted, but to play as they hard as they did; (Daly) Hamilton and (Jesse) Sheen, (Carter) Coles, Trevor Van Steinburg …
“They’re not an easy team to contain and I think other guys up front were good. We saw a lot of good things. The score obviously isn’t what we wanted and the whole series isn’t what we wanted, but we played a real good hockey club that came at us with a lot of different weapons – a lot of speed, a lot of pace, a lot of intensity and they finish checks.
“Some of our guys answered the bell and some didn’t.”
Looking ahead, a battle such as the Eagles had with the Bandits should be a good experience for returning players, said Milne.
“For some of our young guys, they know now how hard they have to play and that was evident tonight, I thought. How hard you have to play, every shift, to be at that level.
“We’ll be using that video to start next year. We know we have to play that style of game from the start of next year and the year through. We played good at times this year, but come the playoffs we just didn’t have the numbers to elevate our game.”
Milne said he feels his Eagles have built a core group that could be around for years – a group with upside, such as Alex Young, Max Giangualano and Connor Lyons – and with buy-in with everyone from team president Darryl Lockwood down to the players, the team will build for the future.
Friday saw the Bandits blank the Eagles 5-0 at home, despite Davis making 38 saves.
A four-goal second period outburst by the Bandits sank the Eagles, including a shorthanded marker. Five different Bandits scored.
On Thursday in Brooks, Taden Rattie had the lone Eagles goal in the 6-1 loss, while game star Davis made 44 saves.
The game again came down to a second period scoring outburst by the Bandits. Going into the second period up 2-1, the Eagles took six penalties and Bandits Will Garin and Cale List (19:43) both scored powerplay markers while Jake Theis added an empty net goal at 18:54.
In the third, Rattie had an interference penalty and 10-minute misconduct at 58 seconds while in the dying moments, Justin Giacomin had roughing, fighting, and 10-minute misconduct penalties.