PHOTO: The Eagles gave their fans a big salute after their season ended on Tuesday night following a 5-0 loss to the Brooks Bandits. –  photo courtesy of Pam Doyle

Story courtesy of Russ Ullyot

Postmedia – Crag and Canyon

The Canmore Eagles gave a spirited effort but in the end it wasn’t enough to stop the juggernaut that is the Brooks Bandits.

Parker Foo scored two goals and Garret Hughson recorded his third shutout of this series as Brooks won 5-0 on Tuesday night to sweep Canmore in this Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division semifinal series.

“It's tough to comprehend the season is over,” said an emotional Eagles captain Jakob Lavoie, who now graduates out of junior A hockey as he turned 21 years old in February.

Brooks other goals came from Jared Cockrell, Derek Lodermeier and Austin Wright.

Brooks outshot Canmore 48-22. The goaltenders remained the same with Ryan Bontorin between the pipes for Canmore and Hughson for Brooks. The two goalies played every minute of this series.

Canmore was shut out in three of the four games, were outscored 23-2 and outshot 197-75 by the team that were the runaway leaders in the South this season, finishing with 100 points (49-9-2) while scoring a league-leading 306 goals — the most by any AJHL team dating back to the 2000-01 season when the Camrose Kodiaks at 318 and the then-Bow Valley Eagles at 308 led the league.

“It was a daunting task,” said Andrew Milne, Eagles general manger and head coach, “but we showed some character, competed and played hard. … In the end our health became an issue (citing Matt Forchuk and Kyle Pauls playing with injuries and being unable to use Ryley Risling and Brayden Biccum]. We didn't have the bodies to compete at that pace.”

Milne was also complimentary towards Brooks following the game.

“They [Brooks] play with such tenacity. They backcheck hard. They put pressure on you from behind. Their D step up and put pressure on you from the front. So, you have a tough time gaining any time and space,” Milne said. “With four lines playing as tough as they did, and backchecking as hard as they did, it was tough to find areas to be successful.”

In the first period, the Bandits would capitalize on a two-man advantage when Cockrell fired the puck past Bontorin from down low at 8:51.

Foo made it 2-0 at 19:47 after getting a couple of lucky breaks. Two Canmore defenders were tripped up in their own zone while playing the puck and then Bontorin caught a piece of the puck but only enough to redirect it over his shoulder into the goal.

In the second period, Foo would get his second of the game, backhanding the puck between Bontorin’s pads while on a breakaway from his own blue line. The shorthanded goal at 15:02 came on the Eagles’ seventh power play of the game.

The Eagles’ No. 1 power play during the regular season really struggled in this series, potting just one goal over the four games.

In the third period, the Bandits added another power-play goal to their total during a 4-on-3 when Lodermeier tucked the puck between Bontorin’s pads at 6:57. Austin Wright would complete the scoring with another power play goal at 19:40.

The final whistle ended the junior A careers for Lavoie and five of his teammates.

'It's been a huge honour [being captain] and I've learned a lot from this experience,” said Lavoie, who played three seasons and 126 games for the Eagles. His role on the team can't be told in numbers (four goals and 25 assists) but rather in his hard-nosed yet disciplined play and shotblocking ability, which took it toll in injuries. The 50 games played this season was the most by the six-footer, who spent long periods recovering from injury in each of the last two seasons.

The native of St. Albert is headed home now and will play for Concordia University of Edmonton in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference beginning next fall.

Other graduates of the junior A program include fellow defencman Braiden Doucette, who joined the Eagles at the start of this season after two years with the Bonnyville Pontiacs. The native of Leduc, who captained the Pontiacs last season, put in all-star type season with the Eagles and finished with 53 points (13G-40A).

Also, Brett Schimmel, who played 136 games over three seasons. The native of Brooks registered 42 points (8G-354A) and played big minutes almost every night the last two seasons, missing just 16 games.

Up front the Eagles lose three players.

Lane Olson is another three-year player. He registered 95 points (30G-65A) over 145 games with a breakout final season keeping him in the top 10 in league scoring until an injury in January. The native of Taber would finish the year with a better than a point-per-game average: 50 points (17G-33A) in 48 games and was fourth in team scoring.

Brett Radford played three seasons with the Eagles appearing in 159 games and registering 78 points (34G-44A). The native of Campbell River, B.C., had 23 goals this season, second most on the team.

Kurt Hildebrand's final season of junior eligibility included a long stint on the injury list, appearing in just 27 games, most near the end of the season and in the playoffs. He actually appeared in an Eagles' uniform in five different seasons – although only two games in each of the 2012-13 and 2011-12 seasons. The native of Calgary appeared in 137 games over the course of the five seasons and finished with 45 points (19G-26A).

Lavoie feels the contributions made by all the graduating players have left the team in a better position for next season.

“We have some good young guys that will be able to lead next year, like [Matt] Forchuk, he will be a 20-year-old, Logan Ferguson, he will be 19, and a few other guys that will definitely be able to step up,” Lavoie said as he looks to pass on the mantle of leadership.

He may be right, as the Eagles have been getting progressively more competitive each season since missing the playoffs for the first and only time in the franchises 21-year history in 2011-12. The Eagles have finished fourth three times and fifth once over the past four seasons and this is the second time in those four seasons they have advanced past the first-round of the playoffs.

The other was 2013-14 when the team won 32 games and took Drumheller to six games in the South semfinal before losing out. Only a January swoon prevented them from equalling or surpassing that mark as the team finished with 26 wins, the second most since the 2009-10 season.

What the future holds for this team which boasted a roster that included 11 rookies and yet finished just a point below .500 on the season is still a story to be told and certainly one worth following next season.

Brooks will take on the winner of the Camrose Kodiaks versus Okotoks Oilers series. The Kodiaks hold a 3-0 lead in the series after a 5-4 win on Tuesday. Cole McBride had a goal and two assists for Camrose.

In the North, the Lloydminster Bobcats completed a sweep of the Whitecourt Wolverines with a 5-2 win on Tuesday. Brett Smythe had a goal and two assists in the series-clinching victory.

The Spruce Grove Saints and Sherwood Park Crusaders will play Game 4 of their series tonight (Wednesday), with the Saints leading 3-0 in the series.