A quick training camp and a late start to the exhibition season had the Canmore Eagles in an uphill battle their first game out on Wednesday.
Playing the first of three home exhibition games in three days, the junior A club struggled against the Calgary Mustangs, who were playing their fourth game of the pre-season.
Buoyed by a dynamic first period by 19-year-old American Michael Sauer, the Mustangs ran out to a comfortable first-period lead and recorded a 7-4 win before 168 fans at the Canmore Rec Centre.7-4
The Bemidji, Minn., native had a five-point game, scoring twice and setting up three goals.
The Eagles, with a mix of veterans and future prospects – six 2000-born players — did not have an answer for him this night.
“That was a young lineup we had,” said Andrew Milne, GM and head coach of the Canmore Eagles. “We were a little nervous and it showed. I thought they got it together in the second and consequently played much better in the third.
Only seven of 16 players that appeared in a Canmore uniform last season suited up against the Mustangs, although that did include last year’s top scorers Matt Forchuk and Logan Ferguson and No. 1 goaltender Ryan Bontorin.
There were six 2000-born players in the lineup and Milne addressed that.
“We wanted to let them see what it is like to play at this level, plus it was an opportunity to give us a vision of what they are going to look like,” said Milne. “The score [tonight] was really errelevant.”
The Eagles though were up against a team chomping for a win, as the horsemen had lost all three of their previous exhibitions. There lineup had a strong veteran presence with 14 of the 20 players having appeared in a Mustangs uniform last season.
Sauer single-handedly assured his team would end their pre-season losing streak, scoring twice and setting up one goal as the visitors raced out a 3-0 lead before the game was 12 minutes old. Matthew Popowich had the other goal.
In the second period, Sauer would set up the Mustangs’ fourth goal scored by Matthew Kopperud
Then his teammates finally got in the act and built up a 6-0 lead on goals by Etahn Kopyczyn and Jordan Xavier.
The goose egg was broken by Eagles 16-year-old prospect Cam McAdam – one of two 2000-born to score for the home team — with under four minutes to go in the period with a quick slapper fooling ’Stangs goaltender Tyler Van Villet.
Popowich added his second of the game just nine seconds into the third period, tapping in a long rebound off Sauer’s shot.
Adam Bridgewater, another 2000-born player, followed by two from Forchuk would give the Eagles some respectability on the scoreboard.
Ryan Bontorin started in goal for the Eagles and was tagged for four goals on 16 shots. Cody Campbell came in just after the midway point of the game and was beaten on the first two shots and finished with three goals-against and 12 saves.
The Eagles outshot the Mustangs 42-31 in the contest with Van Villet going the distance for the visitors.
Canmore will send two squads to the ice Thursday night. The split teams – with Milne planning on dressing two 17-aside squads — will feature in games versus the Olds Grizzlys at the Canmore Rec Centre and the Calgary Canucks in Chestermere (game time for both contests is 7 p.m.).
EAGLES NEST: It was not a night off for the 10 returning Canmore players not in uniform, several joined assistant coach Evan McFeeters in Banff for a conditioning camp for minor hockey players the junior A team is helping out with this week. … Canmore’s pre-season winds up Friday against the Canucks on Friday (7 p.m., Canmore Rec Centre). … The regular season begins Sept. 16 against these same Mustangs followed by the Drumheller Dragons on Saturday (both games 7 p.m., Canmore Rec Centre).
For more from Russ and the Crag and Canyon: http://www.thecragandcanyon.ca/2016/09/08/eagles-lose-opening-exhbition