As the saying goes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
This certainly applies to the 2017-18 Canmore Eagles.
For nearly a decade, whether the Eagles were riding a 12-game winning streak, or mired in the league basement, the team has consistently played its best hockey against league favourites.
They demonstrated that talent again with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the North Division’s first-place Fort McMurray Oil Barons, Thursday (Oct. 12) at Alex Kaleta Arena. Eagles captain Coy Prevost and rookie Alex Young scored for the home squad in the losing effort. If it weren’t for Barons standout Will Conley, who snuck behind the Eagles defence for a breakaway goal with less than two minutes to play in the third, the result could have been different.
“That’s the best team in the north, and I think we played with them for 59 minutes,” said Eagles head coach and general manager Andrew Milne. “We’re getting a lot out of guys right now and we have to continue with that momentum and maintain a positive outlook.”
The Eagles looked like a top team, rolling four lines for much of the game and receiving great play from young defenders Carter Coles and Geoff Fizet.
“This team, they’re not going to quit. The limited shifts the fourth line got in the third, they were good. Alex Young is resilient on pucks. Coles and Fizet were great on the back end,” Milne said.
After a long September, the Eagles have been tough to beat in October, and are winners of five of six games. The young lineup is playing over its heads, and in the process, is earning more respect by the day.
“For us, it’s about concentrating on who we are, what we are and finding our identity. We want to work hard. The game plan is important and the structure has to be followed for us to be successful,” Milne said.
The Eagles skated like the wind for 60 minutes and didn’t back down from towering Fort McMurray defenders, which is one of the biggest corps in junior A hockey. The Eagles fought for respect against the Oil Barons, Milne said, which paid off in their northern road swing, while Thomas Davis continued to play like one of the best goalies in the game.
“We now know we’ll get the respect we deserve. We have to earn it every night. Last year we could rely on our scoring and sit back. We can’t do that this year,” Milne said.
That doesn’t mean scoring is lacking. Colton Young was named AJHL player of the week for a six-goal outburst. Milne said there is also a chance last year’s players Adam Tisdale and Bryce Platt could return to the team to boost offence. Tisdale was expected to be a leader on this year’s club, but instead opted for a stint with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, where his ice time has been limited. He had 51 points in 59 games last year with the Eagles. Platt has played nine games with the Regina Pats, where he has three points and seven penalty minutes.
“We don’t know what will happen with Tisdale and Platt, so we’ll see,” Milne said.
The Eagles are down a defenceman, though, as local fan favourite Adamu Tanaka is out with a concussion.
The Eagles are home again Sunday afternoon (Oct. 22) at 2:30 p.m. against the Olds Grizzlys, and host the same foe Oct. 28 in their last game of the month. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
The Eagles split their northern trip, as they defeated Bonnyville 4-2 Saturday (Oct. 14), before dropping a 2-1 overtime loss to Lloydminster Sunday.
For more from Justin Brisbane at the Rocky Mountian Outlook
Photo by: Aryn Toombs