For the 2nd consecutive night, the Canmore Eagles were able to take the #1 team in Canada to Overtime. The Bandits had a record-breaking regular season of 57-3-0. But unlike last night, it was the visiting Brooks Bandits who were victorious, as the Bandits ended the thrilling game at 17:23 of the 1st Overtime on a goal from Arnaud Vachon in front of 585 noisy and enthusiastic fans at the Canmore Recreation Centre. The Bandits now lead the Best-Of-7 series 3 games to 1.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort by our guys,” said Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne. “Lot of character in our locker room, a lot of guys played their hearts out tonight and unfortunately we were on the losing end. It was a bouncy two way. We had chances to win, but unfortunately, we didn’t get that bounce to go our way, but we had opportunities to win that Hockey game.”
Eagles 20-year-old Defenceman Daly Hamilton also spoke after the game saying, “I can’t say enough good things about our guys. We went to war tonight and we showed them that we belong in this series. We can battle with them, we can skate, we can win games against these guys. It’s gonna be a good Game 5. I’m excited for it.”
It was the visiting Bandits who scored first with Forward Arnaud Vachon scoring the first of his 3 goals on the night at 12:08. The Eagles answered back with a shorthanded goal from Nolan Steer, his 1st career AJHL Playoff goal at 13:19. Steer received a pass from Captain Colton Young on a 2-on-1 rush. The 2 teams went to the locker room tied 1-1 after the 1st.
In the 2nd period, the Brooks Bandits scored a shorthanded goal of their own to regain the lead with Vachon scoring his 2nd of the night at 1:39. That goal certainly did not deflate the Eagles, as the locals were able to tie the game at 2-2 with Quinton Ong’s 7th goal of the playoffs. He beat Bandits goaltender Pierce Charleson glove side with a quick wrist shot. Michael Spafford assisted on the goal.
Only 1:31 later, the Eagles took advantage of a Bandits turnover in their own end and Tian Rask found Owen Reith in the slot and he made no mistake for his 2nd goal of the Playoffs. The Eagles went back to the locker room for the 2nd Intermission up 3-2.
In the final frame, the Eagles looked to extend their lead, but the Bandits tied the game at 3-3 on a goal from Tyler Campbell at 7:05. Late in the period, the Eagles had a glorious opportunity to get the go-ahead goal as the Eagles were given a 4 minute Power Play with 5:36 left in regulation and they even had a 5 on 3 advantage for 40 seconds, but unfortunately, the Eagles were unable to capitalize and for the 6th time in 9 games of this Playoff season, the Eagles went to Overtime. The Eagles were missing the services of Defenceman Mark Drohan for the 2nd consecutive game and Coach Milne thought that having him out of the lineup certainly hurt the team’s Power Play in tonight’s game. Drohan who is the team’s Quarterback on the Power Play had 61 points in the regular season, including 28 with the man advantage. The Eagles went 0 for 7 on the Power Play.
In Overtime, both teams had chances to end the game, before Arnaud Vachon completed his hat trick when he fired a shot that found the back of the net following a scramble in front of the Eagles net.
The series now switches to the Centennial Regional Arena in Brooks for Game 5 on Friday night. The Eagles will look to avoid elimination, something they faced twice in their 1st Round series vs Drumheller and were able to rally back down 2 games to 1 to win the series in 5 games.
“I think we just played 7 great periods against a good hockey club, so we’re feeling good about ourselves,” said Coach Milne. “We’ve done a lot of positive things. In the 2 games in Brooks, we sat around and watched too much. We've got to do a better job of not doing that this time. We don’t anticipate that our guys will be sitting around and watching, we’re gonna be the ones dictating the pace of play and that’s something we have to prepare for.”
Daly Hamilton who is one of 7 Eagles players looking to extend their Junior career is certainly confident for the team’s challenge ahead saying, “I think we’re feeling good and we showed that we played our best hockey when our backs are against the wall here. Obviously, we put up a good fight and won in Drumheller. We’re facing elimination going into Brooks here, I mean the other 20-year-olds here, we’re just playing our hearts out, playing for each other. I think now that we proved that we can play with them in our barn, it’s time to take it to them in their own.”
The Eagles who have played their first 9 games of the playoffs in 13 days will certainly enjoy a day of rest tomorrow before they get ready for Game 5. Coach Milne believes that having a couple of days between Game 4 and Game 5 should benefit the team. The Eagles have not had more than 2 days between games since playing Game 1 of the Drumheller series.
If the Eagles are successful and can force a Game 6 back at the Canmore Recreation Centre, it will be played on Sunday night at 7 pm.
PLAYOFFS AROUND THE AJHL:
One Division Semi-Final series is already done in the AJHL. The North Division’s 3rd seeded and the league’s defending champions, the Spruce Grove Saints, swept the 2nd seeded Bonnyville Pontiacs in 4 straight games. The Saints outscored the Pontiacs 14-6 in the series and they now move on to the North Division final taking on the winner of the series between the top-seeded Sherwood Park Crusaders and the 4th seeded Fort McMurray Oil Barons. The Crusaders lead the series 3 games to 1 and Game 5 is on Friday night in Sherwood Park.
In the other South Semi-Final series, the 4th seeded Camrose Kodiaks avoided elimination tonight defeating the 2nd seeded Okotoks Oilers 4-3 in Game 4. The Oilers lead the series 3 games to 1 and Game 5 is on Friday night in Okotoks.