A first look at this year’s Eagles
By Russ Ullyot
The Canmore Eagles have been stickhandling through a busy off season towards a new Alberta Junior Hockey League campaign. There are new additions to the coaching and training staff and of course plenty of new and promising players looking to impress. As well, there are changes at the league level to contend with this campaign.
General Manager and Head Coach Andrew Milne is now in his 16th season with the Eagles. He is joined on the management side this season by Bryan Arneson, who has served as an assistant coach the past two seasons and has now had added the title of assistant general manager. Will Heseltine is in his fifth year with the team, beginning as coordinator of analytic and hockey research to his current role as vice president of hockey operations. Kyle McLaughlin is entering his fourth season with the organization as Director of Skill Development as well as assistant coach. New is assistant coach Ben Assad, who played parts of five seasons in the AJHL including captaining the Calgary Canucks in 2016-17 before moving on to USports hockey and more recently coaching elite players during the off season. Also, new this campaign is athletic therapist Dave Rowe, who worked with the Merritt Centennial of the B.C. Hockey League the past two seasons.
Back on the ice, the Eagles’ training camps are certainly not long, drawn-out affairs. This year, the players got together for the first formal on-ice session on Tuesday, Aug. 29. After three days of workouts which included the annual Blue vs White game, the team played its first of four planned exhibition games on Friday, Sept. 1. More on the game later.
In recruiting for the upcoming season, Canmore dipped heavily into the Edmonton Junior Oilers with five players joining the Eagles this season. The team is also well represented locally with two players from Banff among the rookie ranks along with a returning Canmore veteran.
The under-21 (players born in 2003 or later) team features four returning forwards and one goaltender. Local 19-year-old Owen Jones appeared in 57 games in his rookie campaign registering 19 goals and 18 assists for 37 points, placing him fourth in team scoring and tops among all non-graduated players for this campaign.
Also returning are Tyler Loughman (St. Louis, Missouri, 59GP-8G-13A), Hunter Burgeson (Airdrie, 36GP-9G-12A), Rhett Dekowny (Swift Current, 59GP-7G-12A), Kayden Rawji (Edmonton, 53GP-7G-4A), Cole Wirun (Lethbridge, 16GP-3G-6A) and Logan Ziegler (Calgary, 12GP, 2G-4A).
Wirun’s abbreviated numbers are a result of missing 42 games last season after suffering a broken femur in a game on Oct. 26.
Making it through the whirlwind training camp are eight rookie forwards including Banff’s Haruki Morikawa (Airdrie CFR Bisons U18, 38GP-4G-10A), Cohen Daoust (Fort Saskatchewan Rangers U18, 38GP-15G-30A), Bryson Insinger (Calgary Bulls U17, 34GP-28G-25A), Stefan Serediak (Edmonton Junior Oilers U18, 37GP-5G-9A), Tavyn Schlaht (Notre Dame Hounds U18, 43GP-5G-4A), and twin brothers Carter Coutu (Edmonton Junior Oilers U18, 38GP-20G-32A) and Zach Coutu (Edmonton Junior Oilers U18, 37GP-22G-24A).
The Canmore Eagles were poised to have seven returning defence for the upcoming campaign. However, Canmore native Finn McLaughlin (39GP-4G-17A) – the son of Kyle McLaughlin – is moving to the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League. The 17-year-old, who has dual U.S.-Canada citizenship, played for the bronze medallist U.S. U18 national team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the Czech Republic in early August. He is committed to Denver University in the Fall of 2024. Also, 19-year-old Ryan Nolan (37GP-3G-5A) is in camp with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.
The returning defence corps includes Casey Black (Calgary, 56GP-4G17A), Luke Chase (St. Louis, Missouri, 52GP-0G-4A), Emanuel Hudson (Lethbridge, 57GP-3G-24A), Brody Mortenson (Humboldt, Sask., 58GP-2G-13A) and Brody Tallman (Lethbridge, 51GP-8G-20A).
New to the squad this season, Keston Beagle (Red Deer Chiefs U18, 38GP-1G-8A), Josh Missfeldt (Edmonton Junior Oilers U18, 31GP-2G-13A) and Carter Rimstad (Edmonton Junior Oilers U18, 37GP-2G-8A).
In goal, returning San Francisco, Calif., native Matthew Malin played 34 games last season posting a 3.45 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. This is the 20-year-old’s third season with the Eagles. He was named to the South Division all-rookie team in 2021-22.
John MacPherson (Regina Pats Canadians U18, 23GP-1.75GAA-.923S/Pct) is set to backup Malin this season. While still in the Eagles’ fold is 17-year-old Isais Madigan (Calgary Black U18, 20GP-3.52GAA-.918S/PCT).
There are two notable changes in how the league is viewed.
The AJHL has now dropped its divisional format in favour of a balanced, single-division setup. What does that look like? There is now a single 16-team loop with teams playing each other four times – two at home and two on the road – over the course of the 62-game regular season. Each team will have 31 home dates with one home-listed game of two played at the annual AJHL Showcase event – this year at Calgary’s Max Bell Centre, Sept. 27-30. The playoff structure remains much the same with 14 teams making the post-season tournament. The top two teams receive first-round byes while the other 12 teams are seeded by their regular-season records.
Hockey Canada has imposed a new regulation on all its affiliated junior A leagues making it now mandatory for all players born in 2005 or later to wear full face protection (read: cages). It’s an unpopular move among many junior A teams and leagues, especially in Western Canada. The B.C. Hockey League in trying to further market its game lists the issue among the many reasons it has split with Hockey Canada to become an independent junior league.
As earlier stated, the exhibition slate of games began Sept. 1. Canmore lost 4-1 to the Grizzlys in Olds. The Grizzlys scored twice in each of the first and third periods. Wirun had the lone Eagles tally after the home side went up 3-0. Olds outshot Canmore 34-32 with MacPherson going the distance in goal for the Eagles.
Next up are a pair of home games, Tuesday, Sept. 6 versus Olds and Friday, Sept. 8 against the Calgary Canucks. Both games are 7 p.m. start times at the Canmore Recreation Centre. The Eagles will wrap up their exhibition slate on the road, Saturday, Sept. 9 against the Canucks, 5 p.m. at the Max Bell Centre.
The Eagles regular season begins on Friday, Sept. 15 against the Okotoks Oilers, 7 p.m. at the Canmore Recreation Centre, and concludes Saturday, March 2 versus the Sherwood Park Crusaders. There are Two games scheduled for Banff this season.