Book it fans! The Canmore Eagles have advanced to the 2nd Round of the AJHL Playoffs after defeating the higher seeded Drumheller Dragons 3 games to 2 in a Best-of-5 series. The highly entertaining series had the first 4 games go into Overtime. In Wednesday night’s deciding Game 5 played in front of 1312 fans at the Drumheller Memorial Arena, the Eagles won a hard fought come from behind game by the score of 2-1. The Eagles will now take on the team that had the AJHL’s best record in the regular season, the Brooks Bandits in a Best-of-7 series.
In Wednesday night’s game, the hometown Drumheller Dragons came out very strong in the opening period as they outshot the Eagles by a 12-2 margin, however, Eagles netminder Thomas Davis who has been outstanding all series turned aside all 12 shots.
In the 2nd period, the Eagles had a much better period outshooting the Dragons 12-10 with a lot more puck possession, more time in the offensive zone and more scoring chances. However, the game remained scoreless as the teams headed back into their locker room.
In the 3rd period, it was the Dragons who were 1st on the board with Forward Brady Risk scoring on the Power Play at 5:44. The Eagles, however, showed their character and resiliency as they have all series and tied the game at 1-1 with 5:31 left in the 3rd. Quinton Ong ripped a shot from the slot that beat Dragons’ goaltender Hunter Virostek on the stick side right after the faceoff. Finn Withey and Max Giangualano picked up the assists. Then only 19 seconds later, Ong was able to get a bouncing puck off the faceoff and he once again fired a shot from the slot that beat Virostek on the stick side to give the Eagles the lead. For Ong, it was his 2nd and 3rd goals of the Playoffs.
The Eagles were then able to keep the Dragons off the scoreboard, including killing off a penalty to seal the victory and punch their ticket to the 2nd Round.
“We were pretty used to get down in the series and coming back late in the game that we had a room full of confidence and we were confident that we could come back,” said Ong after the game when speaking on his two goals. “It was nice to get the first one and the 2nd one just the cherry on the top.”
“That’s a really good group in there. A lot of character in that locker room, you know adversity all through the series, where at times we could have bought out, but we didn’t,” said Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew about the team’s series win. “I said to our guys, we bend, but we don’t break. I think we were confident that we had the ability to pull that off. We have the horses in the stable. Something that our guys are quite capable, which is to score. It was never in doubt for us, we were confident all series.”
The series win was certainly the result of a total team effort, but if there is 1 player who deserves a lot of credit, it’s goaltender Thomas Davis. In Wednesday’s game, the 20-year old, 3rd-year vet stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced. Davis started all 5 games of the series and he only gave up a total of 11 goals and his Save Percentage was an impressive .936%.
“I couldn’t be happier for Thomas,” said Coach Milne. “You don’t win a Playoff series without good goaltending and we got exceptional goaltending. Tommy had some battles during the year. He struggled at times and I think for me personally just to watch Tommy have the success he deserves is outstanding. He’s been such a tremendous contributor to our program over all the years and I couldn’t be happier for him to have the success he deserves to have. Tommy is such a big part of our community and our character in the Hockey club, so it’s great to see him have success and get rewarded and his contribution and effort through the Canmore community.”
Davis who got to win his 1st AJHL Playoff series in his 3 seasons with the Eagles spoke after the game regarding the playoff series win saying, “It’s good, it’s definitely fun. I never did get it, I mean last year we had it pretty tough with Brooks, the year before a little bit of an upset. It was good this year, I mean [the Drumheller Dragons] were really good this year. It makes it all better that it’s such a hard-fought series, something that I like to have now.”
The shots on goal were 34-24 in favour of the Dragons. It was the only game in the series in the Dragons had the edge on shots.
The Eagles brought a fan bus of 38 people to the game and had an additional 30 join them at the rink. The Eagles fans were certainly cheering very loud throughout the game.
“I think the boys loved it,” said Coach Milne. “They love seeing the support and they love seeing exactly what it means not to just us, but to the whole community. Everybody was behind us and that’s a really comforting feeling for the boys.”
The Eagles now don’t have much time to rest up with their 2nd Round series vs the Brooks Bandits beginning Friday night with Game 1 in Brooks. Game 2 will be on Saturday night also in Brooks and then the series will switch to Canmore for Games 3 & 4 on Monday and Tuesday.
“We know what we are up against,” said Coach Milne. “The good thing about the playoffs is that anything can happen.”
EAGLES FUN FACTS:
– In their history, the Eagles are now 3-2 in winner-takes-all games. Two of those three wins were against the Dragons in Drumheller.
– The Eagles who had the 3rd best Power Play in the regular season managed to win the series despite not scoring a single goal with the man advantage (0-for-18).
– In their regular season series vs Drumheller, the Dragons outscored the Eagles 36-26 in 6 games. This playoff series featured a lot fewer goals than the regular season series as the Eagles outscored the Dragons 12-11.
– The Eagles who had some trouble with discipline in the regular season certainly did a great job to control their emotional level in this series as the Eagles were shorthanded only 18 times (3.6 per game). In the regular season, the Eagles were playing a man short an average of 5.8 times a game.