Solid goaltending, a high flying offence and a new bone crushing machine named Brett Stewart will carry the Canmore Eagles’ hopes and dreams on the eve of their home opener Friday (Sept. 16) at Alex Kaleta Arena, as they continue to hunt for elusive success in the AJHL.
The Eagles’ preseason was a blur; a flurry of four games in three nights, complete with hints of glory and tales of woe. The glory culminated with Ryan Bontorin’s solid play in Friday’s (Sept. 9) 5-3 win over the Calgary Canucks, assisted by a bevy of goals off the rush. The woe – a 10-1 split squad defeat at the hands of the Canucks on Sept. 8 – the less said about that, the better.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. at Alex Kaleta Arena for the Eagles opener against the Calgary Mustangs. The Eagles have no time to rest, as the Drumheller Dragons are in town Saturday (Sept. 17).
Head coach and general manager Andrew Milne is satisfied with many elements he’s seen on his team, but said the team still has major areas to improve in.
“There are some things we want to identify and improve upon, for sure. The defence at times was a little soft. They didn’t quite move the puck up to our forwards quick enough. We’re going to have to address that, because I think our strength lies up front. We just have to get the puck to them,” Milne said.
In the team’s final exhibition game against the Canucks, much of the offence came off the rush, with Colby Livingstone, Adam Tisdale and Nolan Kurylo all scoring. Logan Ferguson added a powerplay marker and Braden Saretsky also scored in the victory. Milne said speed and quickness will be the team’s asset this year, but the forwards will need help.
“We have enough guys who can (score). That will be a strength. We just have to move pucks up to them quicker. We hope to keep the pace of the game up. Jarell Pinchuk will draw into the lineup and he’s capable of moving the puck,” said Milne.
“We have the ability. As a structure, we want to play a fast-paced game. We’re not going to freeze pucks and take faceoffs in our own end.”
Before the start of the season, Milne also wants to see the Eagles become a tougher opponent, something he hasn’t seen enough of in the preseason.
“At times we were tough to play against, at times we weren’t. Our guys have to understand what hard to play against is. It’s not always a physical or a tough thing, but more of a difficulty. Speed will be a factor. Offence will be a factor. I like to see Stewart and Jonas Gordon and what they bring. Gordon isn’t yet 100 per cent, and we’ll also add Pinchuk, who was hurt,” Milne said.
Stewart appears to be ready to play big minutes for the Eagles. Acquired in a trade for Ryley Risling, Stewart has the tools to be a force – and a fan favourite.
“He has that element of size and strength. He likes to play that way and that’s a huge asset to have. His leadership and experience will help us,” Milne said.
The roster had yet to be finalized by press time, (the team is still carrying too many 20 year olds) but Milne let it slip that Colton Young had earned a spot on the team. The 5 foot 10, 160 pound forward scored two points in eight games with the Eagles last year, and will play a bigger role in 2016-17, bringing speed and smarts to the lineup.
“He’s been outstanding through camp. It’s clear he’s on the team. We will get to workable numbers this week,” Milne said.
Brothers Trevor and Tyler Van Steinburg have also made the Eagles squad. Tyler will patrol the defence while Trevor has a spot on the right wing.
Ferguson will be someone players like Young will look to for leadership this season. Now in his third year with the club, he’s confident the team will have the required depth to be a threat, and believes the young defence will come into its own as the season rolls along.
“I think we have a lot of good young talent coming in. We have a lot of forwards coming back. Our back end will develop over time, learn their role and be good,” Ferguson said. “I think we’ll have a good start to the season.”
The team has yet to name a captain, but Ferguson knows he’ll be in a leadership role regardless.
“A leadership role will be important for me. It’s a good learning experience and an honour to be a leader. I will just work as hard as I can and do my best,” Ferguson said.
Along with Matt Forchuk, Ferguson hopes to chase the league scoring title again this year, but it definitely isn’t his main focus.
“Scoring would be nice, but more importantly wins are the goal. If we can do better in the playoffs, that would mean a lot more to me,” Ferguson said.
For more from Justin Brisbane at the Rocky Mountain Outlook: http://www.rmoutlook.com/article/Eagles-ready-for-takeoff-after-truncated-preseason-20160915