Photo: The Canmore Eagles and Drumheller Dragons lined up for the customery hand-shakes after the Eagles eliminated the Dragons from the playoffs with a 6-1 road victory in Drumheller. – Photo courtesy of Luc Turcotte.
Story courtesy of Russ Ullyot – Postmedia – Crag and Canyon
A stellar performance from the Canmore Eagles on Monday night has the junior A team heading to the next round of the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs.
Canmore scored a 6-1 victory over the hometown Drumheller Dragons before 526 fans. The victory gave the Eagles a 3-1 series win in this best-of-five South Division first-round matchup.
“It's a great feeling,” said Jakob Lavoie, the Eagles captain.
It marks the first time the Eagles have advanced to the second round since 2014.
There were many standout performances in this series, including that of goaltender Ryan Bontorin, a trio of 20-year-old defencemen Lavoie, Braiden Doucette, Brett Schimmel, veteran forwards Matt Forchuk, Lane Olson, Logan Ferguson and rookie forwards Adam Tisdale. Braden Saretsky and Coy Prevost.
When asked to pick out a series star, Eagles general manager and head coach Andrew Milen was quick in his selection.
“I thought Lane Olson was a real differencemaker this series,” the coach said. “His point totals maybe weren't there [two goals and two assists] but he was clutch. He was working hard. He was skating so fast. He was the Lane Olson back in the first few months of this season.
“I think it has taken a while to come back from the injuries but he is all the way back.
Canmore, who finished fourth in the South during the regular season, now take on the regular-season South Division champion Brooks Bandits, who had a first-round bye after putting together a 100-point season (49-9-2). The best-of-seven series marks the first time the Eagles and Bandits will meet since a first-round series in 2011, which the Bandits won in three games.
The Brooks versus Canmore series will start Friday, with the first two games in Brooks. The Bandits won five of six meetings during the 2015-16 regular season, outscoring Canmore 32-12.
“We are eventually going to have to go through the best to be the best,” Milne said of the upcoming challenge. “It's not going to be easy, we know that.
“We thought we played some pretty good games against them, taking out the first two games when we didn't have the goaltending we do now — and they don't play in our mind. We know we are going to have to be on top of our game and we won't beat them if we are not at the top of our game.”
Lavoie believes the Eagles, who are the overwhelming underdogs, are up for the challenge.
“It's going to be a good series. It is going to be tough but I think we can rise to the occassion,” the captain said.
“We will have to play the same way we are now, play well, use our speed, be physical. They are going to bring the same. They are a fast team and we are going to have to conscious of that.”
This is the first time in last three playoff series that Canmore has defeated Drumheller. The Eagles were eliminated from the playoffs by the Dragons in 2014 and 2013 but won a first-round series in five games in 2006, needing an overtime goal from Yan Guillemette to take the series. They were beaten by the Bandits in the next round which went six games.
Canmore goals in Monday's victory came from Tisdale and Forchuk, for each their third goals of this series, Olson, his second, Schimmel, Doucette and Colby Livingstone.
Forchuk led all scorers in this series with six points (3G-3A).
Drumheller's lone goal came from Joran Patenaude.
Drumheller outshot Canmore 39-16. Bontorin for the Eagles and Jonny Hogue for Dragons played every minute of this series for their respective teams.
Bontorin was steady throughout the series, surrendering 10 goals over the four games but only six over the past three games while posting an impressive .924 save-percentage for the series.
Milne said Bontorin's play has been “outstanding”, with Monday's 38-save performance especially pleasing.
“He was awesome in net (on Monday). They were shooting from everywhere. They knew they had to get pucks on net. That was their game plan,” Milne said. “He didn't have to steal the game for us because there were a lot of perimeter shots… but he made some pretty good inside saves.”
Getting good goaltending is key to having success in the playoffs. To that end, Bontorin made the saves when they mattered the most and allowed his teammates to dictate the games.
“I thought I played well but I thought my teammates did well in keeping everything to the outside,” said Bontorin. “They battled and blocked shots really well.”
The playoffs are already showing to be a level above the regular season for the goaltender.
“Every game is more intense and that much tighter,” Bontorin said. “Any bounce can be the deciding goal, so I have to focus in on every shot.”
Canmore jumped out to the early lead, the first of this series, when Tisdale scored with a shot from the corner that Hogue misplayed at 5:09.
Patenaude tied the game at 12:58 with a hard shot from the left wing and the teams completed the first period tied at 1-1 despite the Dragons outshooting the Eagles 16-6 in the period.
Canmore exploded for three goals inside the opening five minutes of the second period.
Schimmel gave the Eagles the lead just 1:37 into the middle frame, playing off a pass by Coy Prevost, who rushed the puck into the Dragons' zone. Schimmel fired a long shot that squeaked through Hogue's pads.
Just 46 seconds later, Doucette after striding just inside the Drumheller blue line fired a wrister that cleanly beat the Dragons' goaltender.
Then on the first power play of the game, Olson's wrist shot threaded its way through a screen for a 4-1 lead at 4:31.
In the third period, Forchuk fired a right wing shot, off a nice up-ice feed by Schimmel, to make it a four-goal lead at 8:15.
Completing the scoring and dousing the Dragons' fire was a quick shot by Livingstone's during a power play at 15:46.
Milne said Lavoie and fellow 20-year-old defencemen Doucette and Schimmel got the team pointed in the right direction this series after losing the opening game 4-1 on home ice. The Eagles won the next two games by 5-2 and 5-3 scores respectively.
“We definitely (upped our play) after that first game, now we are playing with speed, finishing all our checks, playing within a structure the way it needs to be played,” Lavoie said. The captain added the team tried to improve every period throughout the series, including making sure they put forth a disciplined effort.
“We knew special teams were going to be a big factor, and which ever team took the most penalties was going to put themselves in a hole,” he said.
As it turned out, the Eagles scored five power play goals on 21 chances while the Dragons were 1-for12.
Around the league
The other South Division semifinal will feature the No. 2 Camrose Kodiaks against the No. 3 Okotoks Oilers, who both swept their first-round series. Camrose defeated the Olds Grizzlys. Okotoks defeated the Calgary Canucks.
In the North, the No. 1 Spruce Grove Saints will take on the No. 5 Sherwood Park Crusaders. The Crusaders pulled off the only upset of the first round, winning twice on the road against the Bonnyville Pontiacs and wrapping the series up at home in Game 4 on Monday night 7-1. Chris McKay recorded a hat trick and Darcy Zaharichuk had three assists for the Crusaders.
The other North semifinal will feature the No. 2 Whitecourt Wolverines against the No. 3 Lloydminster Bobcats, with both teams sweeping their first-round series. Whitecourt defeated the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Lloydminster defeated the Drayton Valley Thunder.
Late Sunday results:
Kodiaks 7 at Grizzlys 2
At Olds, Mackenzie Bauer recorded a hat trick as Camrose completed the sweep.
Oilers 4 at Canucks 1
At Calgary, Carter Huber had one goal and one assist as Okotoks completed the sweep.
Pontiacs 5 at Crusaders 2
At Sherwood Park, two goals by Derek Brown kept Bonnyville's season alive for one more game.
Bobcats 11 at Thunder 3
At Drayton Valley, the Royal Bank Cup hosts got goals from 10 players, with former Dragon Ryan Chynoweth registering two goals, as Lloydminster moved on to the North semifinals.
Wolverines 7 at Oil Barons 1
At Fort McMurray, Cory Santoro scored twice as Whitecourt completed the sweep.
EAGLES NEST: Canmore scratches were Ryley Risling, Kyle Pauls, Braeden Biccum and Cole Noble. … Drumheller was without Evan Tschumi (suspended) with Nolan Kent serving as emergency backup goaltender with Xavier Burghardt unable to suit up. … Current Eagles Jarrell Pinchuk was a member of the Dragons when they defeated the Eagles in the 2014 playoffs. … This is the first time since 2006 the Eagles have closed out a playoff series on the road. … Canmore has made it out of a second-round series and into the South playoff championship series only twice. They lost in the South finals in 2002 (Grande Prairie Storm) and 2003 (Camrose Kodiaks). Both those years, the Eagles finished first in the South for the regular season. … Kudos to Nathan Crosby of drumfm 99.5 for a professional job of calling the play-by-play in this series.