EAGLES READY FOR BIG CHALLENGE IN ROUND 2 VS NO.1 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY
The 2021-22 season has certainly been one full of challenges for the Canmore Eagles. Go back a year ago, when the AJHL had a return to play last spring after pausing the season in November 2020, the Eagles had to opt-out. Fast forward to September 2021, the Eagles entered the season with only eight players having played a full season at the Junior level and Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne could not be behind the bench for the first 15 games of the regular season due to a league suspension. The regular season was certainly not the team”™s best in their 27-year history as they finished in sixth place in the AJHL”™s South Division with a record of 20-31-9 for 49 points. During the season the Eagles had to deal with long-term injuries to some key players like Forwards Lane Paddison and Kayden Smith.
However all of those obstacles have not prevented the Eagles from playing their best Hockey at the most important time of the season as in the opening round of the playoffs, the Eagles upset the rival Camrose Kodiaks who finished 20 points ahead of the Eagles, winning the series in a decisive Game Seven.
“It”™s been a roller coaster for sure, we”™ve had a very interesting season coming off the Covid year,” says Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne. “Starting the year with a bit of a holiday for myself. You know the pressure put on Bryan and Kyle and how hard they work. I”™m just proud of the way the whole group responded. I don”™t think a lot of teams, a lot of people were giving us credit. I know internally we believed we had a good team in here and we just had to play the right style of game and you saw that in the first round “.
Here we go now. The Eagles are among the eight AJHL teams who still have their season continuing. The next task is an even bigger challenge as the Eagles will face off against the Brooks Bandits who were ranked as the no. 1 team in Canada for most of the season with an impressive record of 52-6-2 for 106 points. The Bandits will be coming off a first-round bye that they earned for finishing at the top of the South Division. They are the no. 1 team in the AJHL in several statistical categories: Goals For (371), Goals Against (130), Powerplay (35.3%), Penalty Kill (86.6%). They also had the top four scorers in the league for the regular season including three players with over 100 points and two players with over 55 goals, including one with 60+.
The Eagles however have certainly one big ingredient in their arsenal to limit the Bandits high powered offence and it is goaltending. 19-year-old netminder Andrei Proctor-Ramirez who has been phenomenal all season long, including in the Eagles”™ opening-round series win over Camrose feels ready for the big challenge ahead. “Playoffs are a different beast and you never know what”™s going to happen says Proctor-Ramirez after the Eagles”™ game seven win on Tuesday night.
Proctor-Ramirez who received a league nomination for the Goaltender of the year award started all 7 games in the series vs Camrose going 4-2 with a G.A.A. of 3.01 and a Save % of .914
It will be the fifth time the Eagles and the Bandits will meet in the playoffs, including the fourth time in the second round. The two teams previously met in 2006, 2011, 2016 and 2019. History is not on the Eagles”™ side as the Bandits have won all four previous playoff series between the two clubs, however in their most recent meeting in 2019, the Eagles certainly gave a Bandits team that broke a CJHL record for most wins with 57 a run for their money. Just like this season, the Eagles were coming off an opening-round series upset as a no. 6 seed knocking off the favoured Drumheller Dragons in a decisive Game five and were facing a Bandits team coming off a first-round bye. The Bandits were also on a 33-game winning streak heading into the postseason after they won the first two games of the series, the Eagles snapped the Bandits”™ winning streak with a 3-2 win in Overtime in Game three in Canmore with Quinton Ong getting the OT winner and Goalie Thomas Davis making 58 saves. In-Game four, the Eagles took the Bandits to Overtime again, however they fell short and the Bandits ended up prevailing in the series-winning in five games.
When asking Coach Milne what the team needs to do to pull another upset, he says: “You just have to take it one shift at a time. I don”™t think we can get caught up in past games or history from this season. We can play pressure-free Hockey. All the pressure is on them, they are supposed to win. So if we can win our shifts, that”™s not going to play well for them. We are playing our best Hockey and so we have to continue to do the little things right and play the same way we have for the last 6 games”.
The series will open at the Centennial Regional Arena in Brooks for Games 1 & 2 on Friday and Saturday night before shifting to the Canmore Recreation Centre for Games 3 & 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm. If necessary, Game 5 will be in Brooks on Saturday, March 26, Game 6 in Canmore on Tuesday, March 29 and if the series goes the distance, Game 7 will be in Brooks on Friday, April 1st.
The Eagles need all the support they can get in this series vs the mighty Bandits! You can buy your tickets on the Eagles website for Games 3 & 4. If you can”™t make it to the games in this series, you can tune in online on HockeyTV.com
GO EAGLES GO !!!
EAGLES PLAYOFF STATS:
With their win in Game 7 over Camrose, the Eagles improved their all-time record in decisive playoff games to 4-3.