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Eagles work to solidify AJHL roster

With the Canmore Eagles’ season opener rapidly approaching, the local Alberta Junior Hockey League operation is in a state of flux as local and out-of-town talent is evaluated.

With the Canmore Eagles’ season opener rapidly approaching, the local Alberta Junior Hockey League operation is in a state of flux as local and out-of-town talent is evaluated.

With the main camp over, and about 80 hopefuls cut to 30, the Eagles hosted the Okotoks Oilers in an exhibition game, Tuesday (Aug. 30) at Alex Kaleta Arena.

Icing a squad which was light on veteran talent, the Eagles played to a 5-2 loss. Their next and last exhibition game is Sunday (Sept. 4) in Okotoks before opening the season Sept. 9 with an away game in Camrose. The Eagles’ first home game is Sept. 17, when they host the Spruce Grove Saints.

At the moment, with players who have survived numerous cuts still in camp, or leaving to try out at Western Hockey League (WHL) camps and others readying for high school, the Eagles organization, like the other 15 AJHL squads, looks pretty much like a revolving door right now.

For his part, general manager and head coach Andrew Milne is kicking tires and trying to light fires to see what kind of squad he’ll have when his South Division squad enters AJHL play for 2011/2012.

With the majority of his veterans watching from the stands, the Oilers game provided Milne and his coaching staff with the opportunity to see some younger prospects step into a junior A lineup for the first time.

“We wanted to showcase our young guys and get them some AJHL experience,” said Milne after the Oilers game. “I thought our young guys played well, but I think they were overwhelmed by the pace a bit.

“But we needed a game to get them (rookies) some AJHL experience.”

Milne said the Tuesday game would likely spell the end of the road for another half dozen players as he expected further cuts would be made.

With veteran goalie Brady Rouleau starting against the Oilers, the first period of the game showed a lack of cohesiveness typical of an exhibition game. While the Eagles’ defensive corps looked solid through most of the game, the offence, which usually takes longer to mesh at the start of the season, generated few chances despite Okotoks taking a number of penalties.

The only goal of the period came off the stick of Oilers forward Nolan Huysmans, who slid the puck under a sprawling Rouleau during a scramble in the Eagles’ goal crease.

In the dying moments of the period, though, Rouleau made a couple of back-to-back saves off Oilers Conner Collett and Joel Johnson to set the tone for the second period – the Eagles’ best 20 minutes of the evening.

Speedy Brady Pollard had a quality scoring chance off a pass from veteran Eagle Steven Phee in the early moments of the second period and Rouleau again robbed Collett from in close in four on four action five minutes into the period.

But it was Canmore’s own Jeremy Gordon who scored the first goal in anger for the Eagles this season when he pinched way in from his blueline position to bang in a goal against Oilers goalie Jared D’Amico with a powerplay goal at 7:07.

Shortly after Gordon’s goal, Oilers defenceman Jeff Noble went after Eagle Carson Brown, flailing away briefly before Brown settled in to deliver several solid blows to take the bout at 7:28.

Immediately after Noble and Brown were ejected for fighting, Phee walked in off his left wing and roofed a shot on D’Amico’s blocker side to give the Eagles their only lead of the game at 2-1.

With about eight minutes left in the period, both teams changed goalies, with Ryan Ferguson replacing Rouleau and Colin Cooper replacing D’Amico for the Oilers.

In a much more entertaining, intense period which saw the Eagles generate more offensive pressure, the locals led 2-1, but opened the third period with Gordon in the penalty box.

Okotoks got the jump early in the third, as Braeden Selvera banged a powerplay marker past Ferguson at 1:12 before Huysman went in untouched and scored on the backhand to make it 3-2.

The rest of the third period was all Okotoks as Brandon Long tipped a point shot and Tariq Hammond put a wrister from the point just under the crossbar on Ferguson to round out scoring with powerplay goals and the 5-2 victory.

In the end, Okotoks outshot the Eagles 46-27.

While he saw plenty of positives among his young squad against Okotoks, “the negative is that we have some decisions to make,” said Milne. “We could be down to 24 by tomorrow.

“I thought we looked good on the back end, but we have guys going to Dub camps (WHL), guys coming back and a lot of returnees.”

Ferguson was off to a Lethbridge Broncos camp after the game, while goalie Cameron Barnes was returning from a Kelowna Rockets camp, likely to play Sunday.

Connor Hoekstra is attending a Kelowna Rockets camp, Canmorite Luke Simpson and Keegan Thompson were attending a WHL Calgary Hitmen camp and Trey Phillips was in a Saskatoon Blades camp. Milne expects most to return to the Eagles.

“And with school starting this week, you can’t keep kids out,” said Milne. “But we’ll be down to 25 guys to start the regular season.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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