Shorthanded, short tempered, short on wins, the Canmore Eagles came up long on effort Saturday night.
The Eagles players gave GM and head coach Andrew Milne plenty of reasons to smile during his post-game comments following a 4-1 Alberta Junior Hockey League victory over the Brooks Bandits before 393 fans inside the Canmore Recreation Centre.
“We challenged some guys to be better and we had a good meeting this morning,” said Milne. “We talked about the compete [level] and having to be better in certain situations. I thought we got a lot out of all the guys tonight.
“We have talked a lot about this being a young team. We have to witness what a good team was like last night [a 5-1 home ice loss to the same Bandits] and say we can do the same. That is a challenge sometimes with a young team: they have to see it. We can tell them what they have to do and show them on video but they actually have to be in that game and say ‘Holy Cow” and then reciprocate with that same type of game — which they did tonight.”
Colton Young scored twice, Trevor Van Steinburg put his body on the line time and time again in blocking shots, rookie Geoffrey Fizet came through on defence when the team needed someone to step up to fill the void, backup goaltender Logan Dyck came within three minutes of a shutout, and the list could go on and on for this game as each player at some point had an impact on the outcome.
Epitomizing the effort on Saturday was Van Steinburg, who seemed to will his teammates to give more, by throwing his own body in harm’s way on just about every shift. In the second period, he blocked two point shots on the same shift, with the second coming with him still reeling and noticeably in pain as he got up on his skates from putting his body in front of the first shot.
“If you want to talk about leadership and character, he just threw the team on his back and said ‘follow me boys’,” asserted Milne. “We talked about it after the game. If you’re not physically, mentally, emotionally excited when you watched him … then you have to quit our hockey club, we can’t coach you, it will be impossible moving forward if that doesn’t get you amped up, jacked up, and you shouldn’t be in our locker-room.”
As for Van Steinburg, who wears an alternate captain’s crest on his jersey to reward his leadership capabilities, he credited a team meeting earlier in the day for pulling everyone together to perform to the winning level.
“It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before but it was stressed a little more today,” said Van Steinburg. “We knew we had some big guys out of the lineup and knew we had to all step up. We had a game plan and we played it perfectly.”
The win snapped a six-game losing streak for Canmore — one that looked on the chalkboard more like it would be extended before the teams took to the ice on Saturday night. Afterall, there was the Eagles’ lengthy losing skid, the previous night’s showing where the hometown was practically humiliated in all departments of the game, the fact that wins against the Bandits are few and far between for this squad even when they are playing good, the idea that the squad would be without the two veteran defence expected to be the team leaders this season in Jarell Pinchuk, who was suspended for Saturday’s game after berating a linesman in Friday’s game over what he thought was not — it was — an offside, and Jesse Sheen (upper body injury), and also without forward Taden Rattie, also suspended for Saturday’s game for pushing a linesman in Friday’s game.
Reflecting on the losing streak, Young said, “It was frustrating because in a lot of those games we were really close [to winning],” said Young. “It’s tough when we are right in those games and we lose, and they keep piling up.”
None of that previous level of frustration was on display once the puck dropped this night as the Eagles looked determined on turning the table on the Bandits, giving the visitors little in time and space and putting together maybe its best team effort this season.
In addition to Young scoring twice (11 goals this season) for his first multi-goal game since back-to-back hat tricks in early October – he had one goal in the following 10 games before Saturday — the Eagles also got scoring from Tian Rask (7) and an empty-net goal from Jake Ashton (11).
Brooks’ lone goal on Saturday came from Matt Cassidy (6).
Brooks outshot Canmore 33-28 with Dyck (2-2, 2.80 goals-against average) and Mitchell Benson (16-9, 2.62) the opposing goaltenders.
Canmore was 2-for-8 on the power play, after going 1-for-13 on Friday, while Brooks was held off the scoresheet on eight chances.
Young’s first goal of this game came at 14:12 and seemed to inspire his teammates to greater things.
“Brooks is a real good team, and coming into this game we knew we were going to need all 20 players to step up and make an impact on the game,” said Young. “I think it really showed out in the game that everyone can make an impact and it can help us win. We knew what we had to do from last game and we turned it around on them.”
Rask would score a power-play goal at 17:20 to make it 2-0 at the first break.
Young’s second goal was a power-play marker at 5:48 of the second period.
Dyck lost his shutout on a disputed goal. The Eagles thought the post had been dislodged before Cassidy’s shot from behind the goal line deflected off Dyck and into the goal at 17:03 of the third period.
Ashton hit the Bandits’ empty net from deep in his own end to seal the victory at 19:36.
The win kept Canmore (10-13-1) from sharing the basement of the AJHL South with the Camrose Kodiaks (7-12-5) and Olds Grizzlys (9-16-1). The result allowed the Eagles to move back into a share of fifth place in a tight division race with the Calgary Canucks (also 10-13-1).
“We can look at tonight’s game as a big, confidence booster for us in the fact that if we play the right way we can be successful,” said Milne.
Brooks (16-8-1) is well placed in second spot in the South.
Next up for Canmore is a home game against the Bonnyville Pontiacs (10-10-4, North, fifth place) on Tuesday at the Fenlands Recreation Centre in Banff. Game time is 7 p.m.
“With the tough stretch we had with this losing streak, it was a huge character bounce for us to get the ‘W’ this night and with this next three, five and seven-game segments we are going to go through it’s going to be all character and the momentum is going to swing and we are going to pull out wins, hopefully,” announced Eagles captain Coy Prevost.
The segments also includes a home game next Friday against the Whitecourt Wolverines, road games against the Olds Grizzlys and Calgary Mustangs on Nov. 25 and 28, respectively, followed by home games against the Camrose Kodiaks on Dec. 1-2 and Okotoks Oilers on Dec. 5.
EAGLES NEST: In addition to the pair of one-game suspensions to Canmore that made for some lineup juggling, Brooks had two of its players suspended for their Friday night antics: Nolan Thompson was suspended for three games for spitting at another player and Jakob Lapointe was handed a two-game ban for a high sticking penalty that was called a minor at the time but then reviewed by the league. … The Eagles have dealt disgruntled forward Mitch Zambon to the La Ronge Ice Wolves (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League). The Saskatoon native appeared in 22 games this season and had one goal and seven assists. Over two seasons, the 19-year-old played 69 games in an Eagles uniform and had 18 points (7G-11A). The Eagles acquired the playing rights for Tattie from the Ice Wolves earlier this season.
Photos by Pam Doyle