PHOTO: With nothing on the line, 11 Eagle starters got to watch the pre-game warm-up and take the night off as the Canmore Eagles wrapped up their regular season with a 4-3 OT loss to the visiting Drumheller Dragons. From left to right are players Braiden Doucette, Brett Schimmel, Ryley Risling, Jakob Lavoie, Matt Forchuk, Brayden Biccum, Logan Ferguson, Nolan Kurylo and Kyle Pauls.
By Russ Ullyot – Courtesy of Postmedia/Crag and Canyon
The future was on display for the Canmore Eagles when they took on the Drumheller Dragons in the Eagles’ final regular-season game of this Alberta Junior Hockey League season.
For the most part of this contest, the five midget-league players blended right in for the Eagles but the Dragons would pull out a 4-3 overtime victory before 545 fans at the Canmore Recreation Centre.
It might have been that Andrew Milne, Eagles general manager and head coach, may not have wanted to show his full hand with his Friday night selections. Canmore and Drumheller will meet in the first round of the South Division playoffs beginning Thursday.
“It’s a chance for these players to shine,” Milne said about dressing a lineup that included five affiliates and seven rookies among just the 16 skaters and two goaltenders suited up for the game. The Eagles were without 11 regulars for this game.
By comparison, the Dragons also had seven rookies in the lineup but just one affiliate player as they dressed a full roster of 20 players.
Drunheller defenceman Isaac Schacher had his six-foot-four frame at full stretch as he slipped around the Canmore defence and a diving goaltender Ryan Bontorin to scored the game winner at 4:27 of the three-on-three session. It was his eighth goal of the season.
Also scoring from Drumheller, who battled back from two one-goal deficits were Clint Filbrandt (10), Matt Muzyka (19) and Mike Falanga (6).
Canmore goals came from rookies Daylan Marchi (2nd) and Braden Saretsky (17), and Kurt Hildebrand (4), who missed 33 games this season to injury.
Drumheller outshot Canmore 47-37, with Ryan Bontorin in goal for the Eagles and Xavier Burghardt tending the net for the Dragons. Johnny Hogue came on at the start of the third period.
The list of players not dressing for Canmore included Colby Livingstone, suspended for two games for a major penalty for goaltender interference in Tuesday’s 8-5 win over the Olds Grizzlys,, and Jake Ashton, suspended for one game for being involved in a secondary fight during the scuffle following Olds goaltender Curtis Chapman being tagged by Livingstone.
The team’s top three scorers, forwards Matt Forchuk, Logan Ferguson and defenceman Braiden Doucette, along with captain Jakob Lavoie took a seat in the stands.
Also sitting out Friday’s contest were forwards Nolan Kurylo, Ryley Risling, Kyle Pauls, defencemen Brayden Biccum and Brett Schimmel.
Getting a good look on Friday were midget AAA affiliate players Colton Young (F, Calgary Royals) Alex Leonidas (D, Calgary Royals), Brady Park (D, Red Deer Chiefs), Brett Campbell (F, Calgary Northstars) and Zack Hayes (D, Calgary Northstars).
“(The experience) has been great,” said Young, who has now played eight games for the Eagles – including six of the last seven games. He also picked up an assist on Friday’s third goal to go with a goal he scored against the Grande Prairie Storm on Feb. 19.
“All the guys are great. It’s a lot of fun playing with all of them. The city has been really great and all the fans.”
For most of this game he was teamed with Campbell and Saretsky. He admitted playing with Campbell, who he battled against all season in the midget ranks was a little different.
“It’s a little odd because you learn to hate those people over time, but now that we are on the same team I can put up with it a bit,” he said.
Young, who the leading scorer for the Royals with 39 points (20G-19A), is already looking forward to playing a full season with the Eagles in 2016-17.
“I am just trying to take it one game at a time right now, but it would be good to play here for years to come.”
Drumheller was definitely on the front foot to start this game – outshooting the home team 19-7 in the period — but it would be Canmore getting the lone goal of the period. It came off a turnover in the Dragons’ end. Marchi stole the puck high in the slot and wired a shot over Burghardt’s right shoulder to give the Eagles the lead at 14:31.
Marchi’s first goal of the season came on Nov. 10, in his 22nd game of the season. It took him another 21 games to get his second goal.
Drumheller would draw even on the power play at 3:31 of the second period. Filbrandt’s long wrist shot beat a screened Bontorin low on the stick side to even the score at 1-1.
Muzyka gave the visitors the lead at 5:49 with a hard shot from the right face-off dot catching Bontorin off balance as he moved across the goal to cover the pass.
Milne showed confidence in the affiliate players throughout the night, often putting two or three on the ice at the same time. During a five-on-three power play late in the second period Young, Campbell and Hayes, working with veterans Hildebrand and Lane Olson, provided the grunt work on the game’s tying goal. Hildebrand, taking up the left point, one-timed a cross-ice pass from Hayes at 17:25 after the forwards took control in the Dragons’ zone.
Saretsky would snap the tie at 9:05 of the third period. On another Eagles’ power play, After Young’s shot was stopped by Hogue, Adam Tisdale scooped up the rebound and fed it to Saretsky, wide open at the left wing post and he had time to tee it up before putting into the goal.
Playing from behind for the second time in the game, the Dragons drew even once more at 15:49 on their second power-play goal of the game, when Falanga tucked in a rebound at the right wing post as Bontorin was left sprawled out after making the first save.
That goal would force the game to overtime.
Canmore finished the regular season with a 26-27-7 record, fourth in the South Division. Drumheller (25-29-5) is fifth in the South with one game remaining, Saturday night at home to the Camrose Kodiaks.
EAGLES NEST: Canmore will host Drumheller on Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m. at the Canmore Recreation Centre, in the opening two games of the best-of-five series. The series switches to Drumheller for the third game on Sunday, and if necessary, the fourth game on Monday. If a fifth game is needed it will be played in Canmore on Wednesday. … The Eagles’ team awards banquet is Saturday night at Cornerstone Theatre.