Eagles season comes to an end

Eagles season comes to an end

The fact the Canmore Eagles pushed the top two teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League to play their best – and for one of those teams it wasn’t enough – should be reward enough but it was a bittersweet final game of the season Tuesday (April 9) in Whitecourt.

The Wolverines, the No. 1 seed for these playoffs, used three power-play goals to pull out a 3-1 victory in Game 7 of this semifinal playoff series sending the surprising Eagles, the seventh seed in these playoffs, to the sidelines.

Canmore took a 1-0 lead on a first-period goal by Zach Coutu, who won the battle for the puck behind the Whitecourt goal and came out on the right-wing side, slid the biscuit across the goal across and off the far post into the net for his sixth playoff goal.

Whitecourt outshot the Canmore 15-5 in the opening frame but trailed after one period thanks to another superb goaltending performance by Matthew Malin, who was battling against the Wolverines’ Nicholas Avakyan once again in this series. The two Californians, Malin from San Francisco and Avakyan from Glendale, have been going head-to-head since Game 3, with each recording a shutout in this series. The Wolverines went with Lukas Renaud in the first two games while Malin has started and completed each of the Eagles’ 16 post-season games.

The Wolverines would solve Malin, who recorded a 19-save shutout victory in a Games 6, in the second period with goals from Travis Verbeek and Joey Melo. Verbeek’s second goal of the game would be his team’s third power-play marker, coming at 14:37 of the third period. Whitecourt would finish the game 3-for-3 on the power play while Canmore was 0-for-2 for the game.

Canmore would pull Malin with just over two minutes remaining in its effort to find the goals that could extend this season, but Avakyan wasn’t to be beaten and finished with 31 saves as the Wolverines outshot the Eagles 35-32.

Canmore finished the regular season in seventh place with a 25-29-2-1 record, then defeated the No. 10-seed Fort McMurray Oil Barons in three games in a best-of-five, play-in series to reach the AJHL playoffs. The quarter-final opponent was the No. 2 Lloydminster Bobcats, who the Eagles dispatched in six games. In the semifinal series, the Wolverines won Games 1, 3 and 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. That left the Eagles needing to post back-to-back wins to advance and with a 4-0 home-ice win in Game 6 it seemed possible, but it wasn’t to be as the for third time in the team’s history it would come up just short of making it to the AJHL final.

It was a most wonderful run. The team played entertaining and exhilarating hockey in these playoffs, buoyed by sellout crowds at the Canmore Recreation Centre in each of the final five (of six) home playoff games. Certainly, there were dozens of new fans won over by this squad of players. On and off the ice, the future seems very bright for the community-owned, non-profit organization which has been in operation since 1994.

Logan Ziegler, who led the Eagles in scoring during the regular season, finished the playoffs with a team leading 13 points (3G-10A).With six goals apiece, Rhett Dekowny (12 points) and Zach Coutu (8 points) were the leading goal scorers. These players look primed to be the centre-piece players for the Eagles next season.

However, Tuesday was the final game of their junior careers for four2003-born Eagles who age out: captain and one of the league’s preeminent defencemen the past two seasons Brody Tallman (103 career games with the Eagles, 25 goals and 48 assists for 73 points, as well as 308 penalty minutes), forwards Josh Hoekstra (40GP-7G-11A) and Tyler Loughman (116GP-29G-34A), along with Malin (96GP-3.30GAA-.903S/PCT).

As well, 2004-born defenceman Brody Mortensen (115GP-14G-35A), who was named the AJHL’s outstanding defenceman this season, is expected to join Loughman at NCAA Div. 1 Lindenwood University, based in St. Charles, Missouri., in the Fall. Also, 2004-born goaltender Matthew Kieper (8GP-4.00GAA-.875S/PCT) is expected to rejoin the WHL Swift Current Broncos now that the Eagles’ season is complete.

Whitecourt will now take on the No. 3 Calgary Canucks in the AJHL final beginning Friday, April 12. All games can be viewed on flohockey.tv. The Wolverines came into the AJHL in 1976 and have only one previous trip to the league championship series, losing in 2017. The Canucks, who came into existence in 1971, last played in a league final in 1997, and were AJHL and Centennial Cup champions in 1995. The AJHL playoff champion will compete at the Centennial Cup – the national junior A championship tournament – in Oakville, Ont., May 9-19.