The Canmore Eagles grabbed second place in the Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division with a 5-4 win over the Okotoks Oilers on Saturday night.
The Eagles, who needed a regulation-time win to gain the much-coveted position never trailed in this hockey game but almost had it tied up in the final few minutes as the Oilers rallied late to make the result uncertain right up until the final whistle.
A season-high 647 fans meant it was standing-room only in the Canmore Recreation Centre for this contest.
“It’s big, I’m happy for the guys, I’m happy for the community,” said Andrew Milne, Eagles GM and head coach. “We are going to get some home ice games which is huge, and gives us an opportunity to be successful in the playoffs.”
AJHL leading scorer Matt Forchuk scored the first two goals for the Eagles, giving them a 2-1 lead at the first break. Forchuk, who also picked up an assist in the game, finished the regular season with 97 points (32 goal and 65 assists).
“It feels great right now,” Forchuk said of the victory. “We are going to enjoy it and hopefully keeping on rolling in the playoffs.”
Logan Ferguson finishes second in league scoring, with two assists on the night giving him 94 points (32 goals and 62 assists).
“It was the most intense game of the year, easily,” said Ferguson. “That’s what playoff hockey is going to be like, so it was a good taste of it. I thought we played a good overall game.”
Braden Saretsky scored his 36th goal of the season at 8:46 of the second period to make it 3-1, season, and ends up fifth in league scoring at 78 points (36 goals and 42 assists).
Bryce Platt scored his 20th goal of the season at 19 minutes of the second period to make it a 4-2 game.
Kyle Pauls, in his fifth and final season with the team, would score what would prove to be the game winner when he banged the puck between the goaltender’s pads from the top of the crease at 5:28 of the third period.
Pauls’s eighth goal of the season and 31st in 242 AJHL games may just have been the biggest of his career as well.
For Okotoks, Nolan Thompson’s 18th goal of the season tied the game at 1-1 in the first period.
Tanner Lauderoute’s 26th goal made it a 3-1 game in the second period.
Then in the final five minutes, the Oilers pulled their goaltender to great effect, getting goals from Carter Huber, his 10th, and Carson Beers, his 14th, to make it a 5-4 game.
The Oilers thought they had tied the game with 1:47 to play when the puck was tipped into the goal only to have it ruled out by the officiating crew due to a high stick making the contact.
The Eagles would continue to be pressed right up to the final whistle in grabbing the two points they needed in regulation time to finish in second place in the division.
Canmore (36-18-6) along with the Calgary Canucks (37-19-4), who concluded their season on Friday night, and Okotoks (36-18-6) all finished with 78 points. The Eagles grabbed second through a tie-breaking procedure that saw the Eagles and Canucks tied at 32 regulation-time wins — the Oilers had 30 — with the Eagles then winning the second tie-breaker by with four victories in six head-to-head games with the Canucks.
Canmore will take on the seventh-place Olds Grizzlys (17-36-7) in a first-round, best-of-five series that opens Thursday and Friday in Canmore (7 p.m., Canmore Recreation Centre).
EAGLES NEST: Okotoks outshot Canmore 36-34 with Thomas Davis in goal for the Eagles and Riley Morris for Oilers. … Canmore was 2-for-5 on the power play and Okotoks was 1-for-6. … D Jesse Pinchuk picked up three assists and has 13 assists in his last nine games. … Forchuk and Ferguson finished the season riding 13-game points streak. Forchuk recorded 28 points during that stretch (11G-17A). Ferguson recorded 30 points (7G-23A). …. Canmore is 17-6-2 since Dec. 31. The Eagles went 8-2-1 in February. … Forchuk is the fourth Eagle to win the AJHL scoring title, following Mark Bomersback (114 points, 2002-03), Josh Zimmer (97 points, 2003-04) and Andy Hyvarinen (101, 2007-08).
For more from Russ: http://www.thecragandcanyon.ca/2017/03/05/eagles-wrap-talons-around-second-place-in-ajhl-south
Photo By: Pam Doyle