CANMORE – Before the AJHL playoffs begin March 7, Canmore Eagles’ coach Andrew Milne is urging the team to get into the pivotal all or nothing mindset.
Milne stressed this in a lengthy post-game locker room talk after back-to-back home loses (Jan. 18-19) against the Spruce Grove Saints, 6-5 in a shootout, and to the Drayton Valley Thunder, 3-2, in overtime.
The head coach and general manager thought the team played selfishly, and if post-season success is going to be achieved, they need to play as a single unit.
“What’s going to separate us from the rest is having a good team game,” said Milne. “We’re going to have to play a good team regardless, we know that, so we might as well prepare ourselves for what that’s going to be like and what it’s going to take.
“Success in the playoffs is wins. We haven’t had a whole lot of playoff success with this group and teaching them about playoffs early is important … hopefully by March we’ll have a better understanding of what that’s going to be.”
Clinching a playoff berth hasn’t been much of an issue for the Eagles, which will see a seventh consecutive post-season appearance in March, but once in the thick of things, results have been deflating for the junior A club.
The Eagles have been swept four out of six times in the first round since 2012-13, including quick exits in 2017 and 2018.
As of Sunday (Jan. 20), the Eagles sit fifth in the AJHL south division with 51 points.
Nine points or less separates five teams with the second place Okotoks Oilers clinging to 59 points and the sixth place Camrose Kodiaks sitting with 50.
The first-place, 82-point Brooks Bandits, have a bye into the second round.
Eagles right-winger Quinton Ong, 19, was on last year’s team that got swept in the first round by Brooks, and expects to face another tough squad to kick off playoffs.
“The division is so tight and there are so many good teams. It’s going to be an absolute battle coming up here and I’m just excited to go to war with these guys,” Ong said.
Playing in his 100th game with the Eagles last Saturday, Ong said the team’s main focus down the stretch is tightening up defence and finding ways to finish games.
The Eagles were up a goal against the Thunder with under 10 minutes to go in the third after an Ong dish to Michael Spafford, but were unable to hang on.
Less than three minutes later, the Thunder’s Ryan Piva scored on Eagles netminder Thomas Davis, to send it to OT.
Before the buzzer, Eagles forward Owen Reith was penalized for boarding, causing a ruckus behind the Thunder’s net.
While up a man in OT, the Thunder’s Brett Bamber blasted one past Davis to end the game.
“It’s tough to give away a point like that especially when we’re up late in the game,” said Ong. “The biggest thing we have to learn from this is to play harder down the stretch and start the playoff mentality.”
BY JORDAN SMALL