Hat trick for Rawji, Eagles win twice
The Canmore Eagles certainly were at their best this past week on the ice as they took on a pair of close rivals in the current standings.
Victories over the Grande Prairie Storm on Wednesday (Jan. 17) and Spruce Grove Saints on Friday (Jan. 19) moved Canmore to 20 wins on the season and the upper hand in a heated battle for 10th place in the standings with the same two teams.
Against the Storm, goaltender Matthew Kieper made his Eagles’ home debut – albeit in a game in Banff – making 19 saves in a 3-1 victory.
Against the Saints, Kayden Rawji’s inspirational performance included a hat trick – albeit two goals were into the empty net – in a 5-2 win.
Canmore (20-24-1) holds onto 10th place tied on points with the Grande Prairie Storm (18-22-4-2) and a single point ahead of the 12th place Spruce Grove Saints (19-24-2-1).
Storm 1 at Eagles 3
The final game in Banff this season also provided the final chance of the regular season for Canmore to best Grande Prairie, who had won each of the previous three meetings this campaign including a 5-2 win just five days prior in the northern community.
Kieper, who returned to the Eagles fold the previous week after an almost two-month stint with the WHL Swift Current Broncos, finally made his much-anticipated, home-ice debut after his previous five outings – including four in November – had all come on the road. A big body in the goal, the 6-foot-3 netminder from Winnipeg, would give up a goal to Alex Atwill early in the second period and finish with the game with 19 saves.
Stefan Serediak’s second goal of the season gave Canmore the lead and was the lone first-period goal. Following Atwill’s power-play goal, Rhett Dekowny notched his 11th of the season to put the Eagles back on top through two periods. Nathan MacPherson-Ridgewell came through with his ninth of the season on the power play at 5:10 of the third period to put Canmore up by two goals.
Also making his Eagles debut to the home fans was Ryan Nolan, who was released by the WHL Kamloops Blazers. The 2004-born defenceman played last campaign with the Eagles, returning to the major junior loop – the Calgary native had previous stops in Medicine Hat and Saskatoon – at the start of this hockey season.
Canmore outshot Grande Prairie 30-20 with Nicholas Jones in goal for the Storm.
On the power play, Canmore was 1-for-4 and Grande Prairie was 1-for-5.
Saints 2 at Eagles 5
It looks like the Eagles are going to be using a rotation system in goal with two top-class netminders as Matthew Malin was back between the pipes, surrendering just two goals on 25 shots.
The talking point this night though was the inspirational play of forward Kayden Rawji, a fan favourite for his ever-present enthusiasm and vexatious style of play since his arrival last season, rewarded this night with the first hat trick by an Eagle this season.
Rawji’s first goal would tie the game at 1-1 at 13:28 of the second period after linemate Dekowny’s hustle forced a turnover deep in the Spruce Grove zone. The puck slid to a wide-open Rawji in front of goal who quickly slapped it past a surprised Saints goaltender. The second and third would be empty-net goals in the final minute with the visitors pressing to get back on even terms, though they were both still impressive in their execution coming off shots from deep inside the Eagles’ zone: the first was a long sliding shot right into the middle of the goal; the second was a high flip that fell to the ice near the opposition blue line and slid to rest in the back of the goal upping the Edmonton native’s goal count to eight on the season.
Canmore scored four times in the final 11 minutes of the third period, including two empty net goals.
Spruce Grove took the lead twice in this game. Alex Hutchison gave the Saints a 1-0 lead in the first period. After Rawji scored the lone second-period goal, the Saints regained the lead early in the third period on a goal by Ryan Johnstone.
Tyler Loughman would tie the game with this 15th of the season at 9:25, a solo effort after intercepting a pass near centre ice, the Lindenwood University—bound forward swooped down the right wing and fired the puck over the left shoulder of Saints’ goaltender Ryan De Kok. Defenceman Casey Black’s third goal of the campaign at 10:24 would prove the game winner, firing a loose puck home from the high slot as he followed Nathan MacPherson-Ridgewell into the offensive zone, who earned his assist by taking a punishing open-ice hit that dislodged the puck but put it in the right spot for his teammate.
Then it was time for Rawji – who with linemates Dekowny and Loughman were key to this victory with their inspiring play all game long – to be rewarded for his play with goals that saw him mobbed by his teammates and would have certainly had him not longing for any hat wear for the remainder of this winter if it weren’t for the protective netting between the playing surface and 673 highly exuberant fans.
Canmore outshot Spruce Grove 27-25.
Neither team converted on any of their power plays, with Canmore awarded five chances and Spruce Grove four opportunities.
This coming week, Canmore rounds out its January schedule. The Eagles are currently scheduled to play at the Okotoks Oilers on Tuesday, Jan. 23, host the Whitecourt Wolverines on Thursday, Jan. 25, and then head to the Calgary Canucks on Saturday, Jan. 27.