It’s hard not to scoreboard watch when it comes to the final month of this Alberta Junior Hockey League season.
The Canmore Eagles are poised to do something they haven’t done in 10 seasons, finish among the top three in the South Division.
The Eagles (29-16-5) moved within one point of the third-place Calgary Canucks (30-16-4) with a 6-0 victory over the Mustangs before 191 fans at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary.
Canmore, now riding a seven-game winning streak, also moved four points clear of the fifth-place Camrose Kodiaks, who lost 4-0 to the visiting Brooks Bandits on Tuesday.
Canmore is at Camrose for two games, Thursday and Friday.
“We know (Camrose) are going to be looking to get us back for the two games we won to start January,” said Andrew Milne, Eagles GM and head coach. “There is also the battle for the playoff spot [and] there is a history between the two teams.
“The good news is we are going into it playing really well.”
Ryan Bontorin earned his third shutout of the season in four starts against the Mustangs. He made 30 saves.
“It’s more important we get the two points but the shutout is nice,” said Bontorin, who has 118 saves in four games against the Mustangs and given up just one goal.
The Eagles have outscored the Mustangs 33-2 in the five games they have met this season — all Canmore wins — with one more game to come, on Feb. 24 in Canmore. Thomas Davis had the other start, that was a 5-1 win on Saturday.
Leading the Eagles’ offence on Tuesday, Matt Forchuk took his league-leading total to 75 points (25 goals and 50 assists) with his first career hat trick in junior A hockey.
“I’ve been waiting quite a while for this to happen,” the smiling 20-year-old co-captain said of the performance. The hat trick came in his 152nd AJHL game.
Forchuk had gone a season-high eight games without scoring before registering a single counter in the win over the Mustangs in Canmore on Saturday.
“We were on a win streak so I can’t complain,” said Forchuk, who counted 11 assists in that eight-game span. “You just try to do what you can to contribute and that means pushing (the puck) to people like [Braden] Saretsky, who had the hot hand for a while.”
Saretsky scored eight goals during the time Forchuk was in his dry spell.
On Tuesday, Saretsky turned the tables with two assists to reach 60 points (26 goals and 34 assists) on the season.
Linemate Logan Ferguson notched his 26th goal of the season and picked up two assists to improve his points total to a league second-best 72 (26 goals and 46 assists).
Coy Prevost (19 goals) and Adamu Tanaka (3) rounded out the goalscorers.
Canmore fired 44 shots at Mustangs’ goaltender Michael Barabash.
Ferguson opened the scoring at 8:03 of the first period.
Before the first 20 minutes was complete Forchuk notched goals at 11:29 and 19:42.
Bontorin’s harshest test of the night came five minutes into the second period when Ryan Stoynich was sent in on a breakaway. The Eagles goalie kept his poise and put his blocker on a backhand by the Mustang.
“I just tried to stay with it,” said Bontorin, who had another scare early in the third period.
Brady Pupp broke in on the 20-year-old goaltender, who came out to challenge. The Mustangs’ forward swooped around the diving goaltender and had an open net but slid the puck out the far side of the crease.
“I thought he was going to shoot but he turned to the outside,” said Bontorin. “I was pretty happy when he missed.”
The rest of the scoring occurred in the final period with Prevost at 4:59, Forchuk completing his hat trick at 6:42 and Tanaka ending the scoring at 12:26.
Brooks (41-4-4) will easily win the South title and the defending league champions will be favoured to win the post-season tournament when it starts in four weeks.
The Okotoks Oilers (31-15-5) hold down second place, with the Eagles just five points back and with a game in hand.
The rest of the South standings has the Drumheller Dragons (21-26-4) in sixth place and Olds Grizzlys (14-3-6) occupying seventh and the final playoff spot. The Dragons defeated the Grizzlys 3-1 on Tuesday night.
The Mustangs (8-38-2) have the worst record in the AJHL.
EAGLES NEST: Canmore’s seven-game winning streak is its longest since going seven games in January 2013. In the 2006-07 season, the Eagles finished third in the South with a record of 29-31-0. … Not dressing for Canmore were F Mitch Zambon and D Jesse Sheen, while F Jake Ashton, who missed the last six games managed only one period before re-injuring his left leg. … D Jarrel Pinchuk did come out for the third period after being handed a pair of stick-related minors and a 10-minute misconduct late in the second period. … Travis Verveda wore No. 24 without a name bar instead of his usual No. 25. … The start of the game was held up by one of the most ridiculous of reasons as directly behind the Eagles’ goal a panel of plywood took the place of the pane of plexiglass. It seems rather silly that there wasn’t another plexiglass panel to fit in place. Before the game started the referee had the rink staff come out to adjust the slab of wood to sit more flush in its position.
For more from Russ at the Crag and Canyon
Photo by: Zach Laing