From the Crag: Eagles fall short in opening AJHL preseason game

The Canmore Eagles opened their Alberta Junior Hockey League preseason schedule with a 5-4 loss to the Olds Grizzlys on Friday night.

Youth was represented in a big way for the Eagles as nine players were born between 2001 and 2003, compared to the Grizzlys having just one 2001-born or later in its lineup in a game played before 346 fans at the Canmore Recreation Centre.

“Those young guys, obviously their first game, they were a little shellshocked,” said Eagles GM and head coach Andre MIlne. “It was nice to see them in a response situation. It was good for those guys. …. We wanted to give those ’02s a lot of looks.”

Canmore’s goals  came from 17-year-old aspirant Marcus Pantazis, 17-year-old veteran Alex Young, 19-year-old sophomore Quinton Ong and 20-year-old veteran Daly Hamilton.

Olds goals came from 2000-born rookies Andrew Malek, Lucas Jirousek, Jason Scheible, who scored twice, and 20-year-old veteran Dylan Wiliamson.

Canmore’s lineup included 14 players that weren’t with the team last season, while six returning players — defence Carter Coles and forwards Max Giangualano, Connor Lyons, Tian Rask, Nolan Steer and Colton Young — and two key off-season additions — defence Mark Drohan and foward Owen Reith — sat this game out. That meant just defence Hamilton and forwards Taden Rattie, Ong and Alex Young were the only familiar faces for fans along with Thomas Davis, who went the distance in goal, and backup Logan Dyck.

Olds outshot Canmore 41-35.

Olds used hometown goaltender Levi Mitchell, who saved all 24 shots he faced, for the first two periods He was replaced by the 2001-born Chambers in the third period, who gave up four goals on 11 shots.

The Eagles ended the first week of training camp having already lost two returning defenceman as 20-year-old Jesse Sheen announced he is stepping away from competitive hockey while second-year Geoffrey Fizet choose to return home. Sheen, a Calgary native, played 109 games (5G-14A-134PIM) over two seasons with the Eagles. Fizet had his rookie season cut short by a shoulder injury after playing just 20 games (1A-6PIM). He returned to his hometown of Baie d’Urfée, Que. at Christmas time to have shoulder surgery but cut his return to Canmore short due to homesickness.

For the opening 40 minutes of this game, Olds was on the front foot, looking full value for taking a 3-0 lead through the opening 40 minutes. The Eagles though came alive in the final period and scored four goals in the final 11 minutes to make it a close result.

Friday’s game was Olds’ third of the exhibition season having already lost 5-2 to the Calgary Mustangs and won 7-4 over the Calgary Canucks, played Thursday in Olds.

Olds got on the board first when Malek, who has played high school hockey at the University School in Milwaukee, Wisc., beat Thomas Davis with a shortside backhander over the left shoulder.

Jirosek, who played junior B in B.C. last season but calls Whitehorse home, made it 2-0 in the first period with a shorthanded goal when he fired the puck between Davis’s pads from right in front of goal.

Williamson made it 3-0 in the second period with a long backhander fooling Davis. The 20-year-old ex-WHLer has spent the past two seasons in the AJHL joining the Grizzlys in January after starting the season with the Canucks.

The Eagles finally got on the scoreboard midway through the third period, when Pantazis, a point-per-game player with the Vancouver Giants midget AAA squad last season, completed a 3-on-2 rush by putting the puck blocker side, knee high on Chambers from the slot.

Alex Young made it a one-goal game two minutes later when he wired a shot from the right-wing face-off dot shortside on the Olds goaltender.

Scheible, who had just one goal playing junior B in B.C. last season, stalled the Eagles’ comeback when his high wrister from the blue line beat a screened Canmore goaltender for his first of two goals in the game.

Ong made it 4-3 at 18:10 while the teams were 4-on-4, picking up the puck just outside the Eagles’ blue line, racing down the left wing and wiriung a wrister shorts side over Chambers’ blocker.

The Eagles would pull Davis with 80 seconds remaining but an empty net goal 20 seconds later by Scheible, who would make it two-goal difference again.

Hamilton’s point shot would put a Grizzlys’ victory once again in double but saved by the final buzzer.

The two teams meet again in Olds on Saturday (7 p.m., Olds Sportsplex).

EAGLES NEST: Canmore got a scare in the second period when Taden Rattie went down to one knee after delivering a bodycheck along the boards. He pulled himself off the ice after twisting his knee and looked to be in considerable distress but would return for a short shift in the final minute of the middle frame and finished out the game. He announced himself healthy after the game… Following Saturday’s game, the Eagles are back home Tuesday to host the Mustangs (7 p.m.) with a return fixture on Friday, Sept. 7 at the Max Bell Centre in Calgary.

For more from Russ at the Crag