NEXT GAME: Thursday, Sept. 17 at Calgary Mustangs
NEXT HOME GAME: Saturday, Sept. 19 vs Drumheller Dragons
When the Alberta Junior Hockey League released their 2015-16 schedule back in early June, Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne knew right away that his hockey club would be in for a difficult opening weekend with a home and home series against the powerful Brooks Bandits.
His intuitions were certainly justified as his Eagle team absorbed a couple of beatings from the Bandits to open the season losing 11-2 in Canmore on Friday night and 6-2 Saturday night in Brooks.
Special team play was the big story over the weekend as the Bandits scored six powerplay goals and capitalized for four short-handed markers during the two game series leaving little doubt that the Bandits remain a powerful force in the AJHL Southern Division.
“We knew going in that this was going to be a difficult weekend for our group,” said Milne, who is dealing with the loss of his top five scorers and both netminders from last year’s team. “It was certainly a learning weekend for everyone. If you’re going to learn lessons, we might as well learn them early on in the season. Our youth was exposed to some very fast, high-level hockey. We were able to see where our team needs to be better. But we are a young group and growing pains are inevitable.”
To be fair, the outcome of the weekend series was probably cast in stone before the two teams even hit the ice. The Bandits, who have compiled a 182-37-21 record over the past four regular seasons, began their training camp in mid-August with just 29 players and enjoyed a seven-game exhibition season including a pre-season tournament in Okotoks and a two game series in Penticton against the top ranked Vees. The Eagles played just three exhibition games, with two of the games featuring split squads.
“The Bandits were in mid-season form and it showed,” said Milne. “Despite the scores, we did a lot of positive things. We saw some real commitment and sacrifice from some of our players. We will be a better hockey club down the road because of the lessons we learned this weekend.”
Lane Olson and Brett Radford had the Eagle goals in Friday night’s loss, while Matt Forchuk and Kyle Pauls scored in Saturday night’s game.
NOTEBOOK: The Eagles used three young goaltenders over the weekend and none of them will be particularly pleased with their statistics. Sixteeen year-old Hunter Virostek started Friday night’s opener and gave up seven goals on 26 shots, while 18-year-old Clark Flegel played the third period and gave up four goals on 13 shots. Ryan Gilchrist, a seventeen-year old and recent cut of the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, went the distance in Brooks giving up all six goals on 34 shots. Virostek was Saturday night’s backup as earlier in the day the team released Flegel. Milne said Flegel, who played midget AAA for the Regina Pat Canadians last season, seemed to lose his passion to play at the junior level. “I think it was a mutual agreement. I don’t think he had the passion for junior hockey. It’s a bit of kick in the teeth for us. We recruited him because he came highly recommended, and he played in the Telus Cup” (Canadian midget hockey’s national championship tournament). . . Special thanks to Shoppers Drug Mart for their pre-game bar-b-q prior to Friday night’s home opener. Thanks to fan donations, $1,000 was raised for the Bow Valley Wolverine’s football club.