Crag and Canyon: Eagles come up short against Saints

Two days after trading away their captain, top scorer and emotional leader, the Canmore Eagles returned to Alberta Junior Hockey League action.

They may have lost Coy Prevost, but there was still 21 regular-season games to play this season heading into Friday night against the Spruce Grove Saints and still a playoff spot — maybe even a preferable position is still up for grabs as teams jockey towards the post-season tournament.

Spruce Grove, which owns the third-best record in the AJHL, used a strong second period to stake a 3-2 win over Canmore before 768 hometown fans in Grant Fuhr Arena.

“I thought coming off this week, with the emotional level of our guys and coming to play here we played a relatively good game,” said Andrew Milne, Eagles GM and head coach. “It is a different lineup for sure.”

The clockshot looked ugly in this one but only a soft second period by the visitors denied them a chance to win this game. Spruce Grove outshot Canmore 41-12 with Thomas Davis (10-18, 3.77 GAA) in goal for the Eagles. Hayden Missler (9-4, 2.52 GAA) was in goal for the Saints.

“We generated some good zone time, and (Spruce Grove) blocked some big shots,” said Milne. “I thought the game could have gone either way. I thought the guys we had tonight did really well. … We were up against a pretty good team.”

Milne though said it was Davis that made it possible for the Eagles to play for a win, even if that didn’t happen.

“It was typical Thomas. He gave us an opportunity to win that game,” said Milne. “He was big tonight, making some massive saves. … they had some really good chances but Thomas makes those saves look easy.”

The Eagles looked poised for the opening 20 minutes as Tian Rask gave Canmore a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 9:23 of the first period with his eighth goal of the season.

The outcome of this game was decided in the second period.

Spruce Grove would strike three times in the middle frame as they outshot Canmore 19-3.

In another big trade deadline acquisition, Chase Olsen recorded his first goal as a Saint to knot the game at 5:03.

Olsen was a deadline day move that saw him leave his hometown Old Grizzlys, where he had played 3½ seasons, registering 158 points (67 goals and 91 assists) in 155 games. His first goal for Spruce Grove, in his first game, was his 12th of this season.

The Saints also got second-period goals from Chris Van Os-Shaw (his league-leading 33rd goal), on the power play at 7:47, and TJ Lloyd (2) at 14:38.

The Eagles, who had five shots in the first period, three in the second and four in the third period continued to make the most of their efforts when Max Giangualano (8) made it 3-2 at 18:49 of the third period.

Unfortunately, it was a case of too little and too late for Canmore. However, Eagles’ fans maybe shouldn’t despair quite yet that this season is lost even with the current losing streak now at four games. The Eagles play 12 of their final 17 games at home following this current road trip. At the Canmore Recreation Centre, the Eagles have proven to be a formidable adversary, so there might be a few surprises in store when the team hits the home stretch.

As for now, Canmore falls to 17-21-2 and seventh place in the South Division following the Camrose Kodiaks (14-16-10) 5-3 victory over the Calgary Canucks (18-22-1). The Kodiaks now own fifth place with 38 points, followed by the Canucks at 37 points and the Eagles at 36 points.

Third through seventh in the South is separated by six points, with the Eagles also just five points up on Olds (15-26-1), who were 10-1 losers to the second-place Brooks Bandits (30-11-1) on Friday.

The Eagles and Grizzlys will meet in Olds on Sunday (7 p.m., Olds Sportsplex).

Spruce Grove improved to 30-8-3 but remains two points back of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (31-6-3) in the battle for first place in the North Division. The Oil Barons defeated the Grande Prairie Storm 5-2 on Friday night.

Prevost was not in the lineup for Fort McMurray as he continues to serve out a five-game suspension for a match penalty he took on Jan. 1 in a game against the Brooks Bandits. He is eligible to play his first game as an Oil Baron on Jan. 23.

Connor Lyons was in the lineup for Canmore and wearing No. 27, which had been worn by Prevost. He drew a regular shift on left wing on a line that included Jake Ashton and Colton Young.

“(Connor) was good. I think he was sucking wind a little bit because I don’t think he has played that much [with Fort McMurray],” noted Milne. “But, you know what, from everything that happened, with him travelling and joining a new team — he didn’t even get to meet the guys and all of a sudden he is playing — I thought he did good.”

Canmore also dressed affiliate forward Zach Carlson (St. Albert Raiders midget AAA) with midget teammate and defenceman Aidan West expected to draw in on Saturday night when the Eagles take on the Sherwood Park Crusaders (7 p.m., Sherwood Park Arena).

EAGLES NEST: Canmore was 1-for-2 on the power play and Spruce Grove was 1-for-3. … Following the weekend games, the Eagles take on the Canucks on Wednesday, Jan. 17 in Calgary (7 p.m., Max Bell Centre). … Canmore’s next home game is Friday, Jan. 19 when they host Sherwood Park (7 p.m., Canmore Recreation Centre). … In other Friday night games in the AJHL, the Crusaders defeated the Calgary Mustangs 5-3, and the Okotoks Oilers shutout the Drumheller Dragons 4-0. … Trevor Van Steinburg, who is currently mending from a broken foot and not expected to return to the lineup until early- to mid-February, is the new Eagles captain. Travis Verveda continues in his role as alternate captain, with Colton Young now taking on that role along with Daley Hamilton (white uniform) and Jesse Sheen (blue uniform) sharing the other alternate captain’s role. … Hamilton and Sheen will also alternate as captains until Van Steinburg’s return.