CANMORE – The start of a new season is a mixed cocktail of thrill, high-energy and nerves for any athlete. For the Canmore Eagles junior A hockey club, those emotions got the best of them in the home opener.
The first night of a home and home against the Okotoks Oilers wasn’t pretty on the scoreboard for the Eagles, losing 5-1 on Friday (Sept. 15) at the Canmore rec centre. With “uncharacteristic mistakes” early on, the Eagles never found a groove and were on the short end of 47-23 shots difference through 60 minutes of action.
“It's a bigger business than what these kids are used to and they learned that Friday night, for sure, with the sold out building and the energy,” said head coach and general manager Andrew Milne.
“Getting guys to be a little bit calmer in the game is gonna help us.”
It was a night when short memories were needed because 24 hours later, the hometown club suited up in Okotoks.
“We came in [the second night] with a different mindset and game plan,” said Eagles defenceman Brody Tallman. “We executed that to the best of our abilities and, obviously, we fell short in the shootout, but we're taking a lot of good things away from that game and we're making steps in the right direction, which is really positive for us.”
The Eagles lost 5-4 in a shootout. Tallman scored twice and Owen Jones picked up two helpers. Tyler Loughman and Brody Mortensen were the other Eagles' goal scorers.
Goaltender Matthew Malin made 41 saves Friday, while newcomer John MacPherson made 31 saves in his debut with the club on Saturday.
Despite dropping two to the Oilers, Tallman said there’s a buzz of excitement in the locker room.
“This week, we're gonna hit it hard for the first couple days and really crack down on our systems later on in the week,” said Tallman.
“We have lots of potential in our room and, you know, we're really looking forward to the next couple weeks coming up as well … we have a really good locker room right now.”
Aside from taking a dozen penalties in two games, a bright spot for the Eagles is its penalty kill, which is 11-for-12 (91.7 per cent). With a veteran blue liner core, an emphasis is being put on defence this season.
"We gotta keep it pretty even keeled back there and just do our jobs and let the forwards do theirs," said Tallman. "It'll all end up working together and be positive on the other side."
The 2023-24 season also marks the 60th anniversary of the AJHL.
Next week is the anticipated AJHL Showcase, starting Wednesday (Sept. 25) in Calgary, where pro and university scouts will get eyes on the league’s top prospects.
Milne said after playing the Oilers, it was good taste for the team, with 11 rookies on the roster, to compete early on against a good junior A club.
“I think we're building off of our last game,” said Milne. “We can sort of start to prepare this week to, you know, kind of jump both feet in the season and get ready for the Showcase.”
But before then, the Eagles’ next game is Sunday (Sept. 24) in Calgary against the Canucks at 5 p.m.
On Tuesday (Sept. 26), the Eagles fly back home to take on the Spruce Grove Saints. Puck drop is 7 p.m.