EAGLES READY FOR REMATCH VS RIVAL KODIAKS
It”™s been two years, since the Alberta Junior Hockey League has had playoffs. The last time however, was spring of 2020 and the playoffs were never completed as Covid 19 shut down Junior Hockey. Things look different now that we are getting out of the pandemic and having a return to normal. One thing that is not different is that the Canmore Eagles and the Camrose Kodiaks are meeting in the opening round of the playoffs once again. Two years ago, the Eagles and the Kodiaks had a fierce and tight battle that went to a decisive Game 7. It was the Kodiaks who came out victorious in that Game 7 in Camrose.
Two years later, the same two teams are meeting again, in what should be an exciting series for the fans of both teams. It will be the fifth playoff series between the two teams. Prior to the last series, the two teams met in the playoffs in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2014. The Kodiaks won the first three series, while the Eagles won in 2014.
This season, the Kodiaks finished third in the South Division with a record of 33-24-3 for 69 points, while the Eagles finished in sixth place with a record of 20-31-9 for 49 points. In their six regular meetings, the Kodiaks won 5 of the matchups, including one in overtime. The Eagles”™ only win vs the Kodiaks came in the first meeting in Camrose on October 29, a 3-2 comeback victory in overtime. Despite the Kodiaks winning five of six matchups, the season series was closer than what the numbers suggest. Game two, on November 28 in Camrose, the Eagles had a 3-1 lead after two periods, but the Kodiaks came back in the third period the tie the game and then won it in overtime. The following meeting again in Camrose on December 7, the two teams were tied 1-1 for a good part of the game, until the Kodiaks broke the tie at the five minute mark of the third period to eventually win it 4-1 including an empty goal. Five days later in Canmore, the Kodiaks won the game 3-1, but the shots were even (26-24 for Camrose). Then the two teams met for a doubleheader in Canmore on January 14-15. In the first game that the Kodiaks won 5-2, it was a 1-1 game for a long time. The Eagles even took the lead early in the third period, but the Kodiaks tied the game and eventually took the lead and scored an empty goal. Game two was dominated by the Kodiaks who won 8-2, but it was the only game of the season series that was lopsided.
“We know that we will have our hands full as they are a good team that has had lots of success this season” says Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne. “We are going to have to find a way to slow down their offence and increase ours”.
Scoring goals has been a big challenge all season long for the Eagles. They ranked 15th in goals scored with 150 and the team”™s leader in points Isaac Suppin had 39. It was the first time since the 2011-12 season that the Eagles did not have a player in the league”™s top 20 in scoring and first time since that season that the Eagles scored less than 160 goals. The Kodiaks ranked 6th in goals scored with 214. Defensively the two teams were closer as the Kodiaks ranked 9th with 201 goals against, while the Eagles were tied for 13th with 237. One area that the Eagles have the advantage over their rivals is between the pipes. The Eagles”™ goalies Andrei Proctor-Ramirez and Matthew Malin finished the regular season with a Save% of .898 and .900 respectively. Proctor-Ramirez also received a league nomination for Goalie of the year. The Kodiaks netminders Logan Willcott and Spencer Welke save percentage in the regular season were .883 and .890 respectively. Finally on special teams, it was also an area where the Eagles had a challenging time all season. The power play ranked 15th operating at 14.23% while the penalty kill stood at 12th with an efficiency of 77.2%. The Kodiaks were seventh on the man advantage (18.83%) and fourth on the penalty kill (82.83%).
One thing that will be interesting to watch, not only for this series but around the AJHL is the fact that most players in the league don”™t have previous playoff experience at the Junior level. On average in Junior A Hockey, players play at this level for three years, so those who entered the league last season or this season have yet to have a taste of playoff hockey at this level.
“I think we are all in the same boat. We are going to need all our veterans to step up and play to their levels” says Coach Milne.
The Eagles have only seven players with previous Junior playoff experience, including their six 20-year olds.
Among those 20 year-olds is Forward Ethan Schaeffer who had a great campaign in his final year of eligibility as he lead the team in goals with 24 and finished second in points with 38 in 58 games. Schaeffer joined the Eagles in the summer of 2019 after having success in the KIJHL with the Revelstoke Grizzlies. He got to spend his entire Junior Hockey career with the Eagles.
“I”™ve had a great time in Canmore and have enjoyed all three of my years here” says Schaeffer. “It has been a great opportunity and am glad I came to the Eagles organization.
About the upcoming series vs Camrose Schaeffer had this to say: “Camrose is a solid team and it should be a very good series. If we come out strong and play the way we know we have to, it should be close. We are all prepared to put it all on the line to extend our season”.
Another 20 year-old who will be an important player for the Eagles in this series, is Defenceman Drae Gardiner. The 4-year veteran was named the team”™s Best Defenceman had a different path to the Eagles as he began his Junior career with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL in the 2018-19 season. After being released by Moose Jaw in November 2019, he joined the Eagles and he was immediately a key contributor to the Eagles blue line. This season, Gardiner had six goals and 35 points in 60 games.
“Yeah junior hockey has been a crazy ride for me” says Gardiner”. “From starting in Moose Jaw playing in the WHL and gaining the experience I”™ve carried throughout life with me. Playing with guys who are now playing in the NHL has allowed me to take my game above and beyond and I plan on continuing to follow that route in my life. Since I”™ve came to Canmore it”™s been some of the best time of my life. I met my two best friends here and the community truly did welcome me to the town and I can”™t thank them enough for that. I think for us to win this series is going to be our willingness to compete every second we get and being prepared not physically but mentally to battle through tough areas and keep pushing harder and harder all the way till Game seven if that”™s how long this series has to go. We”™re prepared for anything and I can”™t express enough how proud of this group I am”.
The Best-of-7 series will begin in Camrose with the first 2 games on Friday and Saturday night. Then the series will switch to the Canmore Recreation Centre for Games 3 & 4 on Tuesday, March 8 and Wednesday, March 9. Puck drop for both games is 7 pm. Should the series need more games to decide a winner, Game 5 will be in Camrose on Friday, March 11, then Game 6 will be in Canmore on Sunday, March 13 at 2 pm. If a decisive Game 7 is needed, it will take place in Camrose on Tuesday, March 15.
Enjoy the playoffs and Go Eagles Go !!!