CANMORE – Local Canmore Eagles fondly remember being starry-eyed boys looking up to their idols on ice, getting a high-five, asking for autographs to be scribbled on their hockey sweaters with a Sharpie, and aspiring to be out on the ice one day.
And for four Eagles on the 2022 roster, the dream has come full circle.
The new AJHL season begins this Friday evening (Sept. 16) at the Alex Kaleta Arena inside the Canmore Recreation Centre, and local forwards Nathan Ellis, Owen Jones and Max Monette, and defenceman Finn McLaughlin, will make the most of their childhood dreams.
“I tried to be at every [Eagles] game,” said second-year forward Monette. “It was amazing to be so close to it and now that I’m on the Eagles, when I see those little kids I know I was in that spot once and I just want to make their day. I knew exactly how it felt high-fiving the Eagles players when they came out and it was pretty surreal.”
Previously playing for Banff Hockey Academy and Edge School, Monette said having players on the team from the Bow Valley can feed into the excitement of the season.
After all, who doesn’t love cheering for the hometown guy?
“I think it’s important for any team to have a few locals,” Monette said. “I think it just gets the community more into it.”
Nathan Ellis, a second-year forward, spent his youth plating with Canmore minor hockey and embracing the older Eagles.
In his admiration, Ellis took his game to the next level, focusing on hockey and committing to growing in the sport. It led him to AAA and sport school competition before getting signed to the Eagles in 2021.
“Once you make the team as a local player, it’s kind of a really cool moment when you realize I turned into the person I wanted to be when I was younger,” said Ellis.
Rookie forward Jones has a closer connection to the Eagles than most. His father, Kurtis, was an assistant coach for the Eagles for nine years, which gave his son an up close and early education on what it meant to play at a high level and represent a club and community.
“I was always at the rink when he coached,” said Jones. “I always loved to go to the games because my dad was on the bench and I thought it was cool because they’re such great hockey players when you’re little and you just look up to them.”
As the season quickly approaches, the Eagles look to improve on last season, when they were eliminated in the second round by the eventual champion Brooks Bandits.
A sore spot for the Eagles in 2021-22 was a lack of offensive production, ranking second last in goals for and power play scoring at 14.2 per cent efficiency.
However, the local group of players said scoring and offence was addressed in the offseason.
“We’re a huge goal-scoring team,” said Jones. “All these guys that we signed that are coming in have gone over 50 points, some 30 goals … I think we're going to be a small, fast, skilled team.”
Head coach and general manager, Andrew Milne, echoed the statements.
“I think once we get a little chemistry with some guys together, we’re going to see that improve from last year’s team,” he said.
The Eagles have 10 AJHL rookies this year including two U.S. imports joining the team – defenceman Luke Chase and forward Tyler Loughman. Last season the pair played roles on the St. Louis AAA Blues T1EHL U18 championship team, a Tier 1 amateur league in Midwest, USA.
A big presence in between the pipes is returning all-star goalie Andreai Proctor-Ramirez. He’s being backed up by Matthew Malin, who was selected to the AJHL’s all rookie team in 2021-22.
“You get a lot of confidence when you get goaltending as strong as I think ours is going to be,” said Milne.
Proctor-Ramirez is one of seven 20 year olds currently on the team. Due to CJHL rules, six is the maximum number of 20 year olds a team can have, so the Eagles will have to make a decision on one of its seven vets – Proctor-Ramirez, and forwards Isaac Suppin, Riley Dekowny, Kayden Smith, Carter Myrol, Kyle Young, and Vincent Scott.
Returning to the bench with Milne are assistant coaches Kyle McLaughlin and Bryan Arneson.
The Eagles first three games of the 2022-23 season are at home starting this Friday against the Drumheller Dragons. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
On Saturday (Sept. 17) at 7 p.m., the Eagles take on the Blackfalds Bulldogs; and on Tuesday (Sept. 20), the defending champion Brooks Bandits are in town. Puck drop is 7 p.m.