PHOTO – Eagle goaltenders Ryan Ferguson (above) and Levi Nelson have had to face far too many opposition shots this year. – (Julie Wilson photo)
With a record of 8-7, Canmore Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne isn’t overly impressed with his team’s performance during the first quarter of this year’s 60-game Alberta Junior Hockey League season.
With 16 points in the standings, the Eagles are currently tied for sixth-place in the eight-team AJHL Southern Division standings – 10 points behind the front running Camrose Kodiaks and 10 points ahead of the last-place Calgary Mustangs.
“To be honest, I thought we would have a better record than 8-7 at this point in the season,” said Milne, whose club has gone 5-2 on home ice and 3-5 on the road. “We have a very solid nucleus of talented players, but we just haven’t shown any consistency to our game this year. We lost two games at the AJHL Showcase weekend in Spruce Grove when we played very poorly, and we dropped a couple of games early in the season when our goaltending wasn’t that sharp.”
Special team play is one area where the Eagles are both thriving and struggling as the power play is the third best in the AJHL scoring 19 goals on 81 attempts for a 23.46 efficiency rating, while the Eagles penalty killing unit is the second worst in the AJHL allowing 21 goals in 75 attempts.
“Obviously I’m happy with the progress of our power play as our players have done a good job of moving the puck around and finding the open man,” said Milne. “But more importantly, we have to cut down on the number of penalties that we take. We have a few players that continue to take stupid penalties in the offensive zone and it’s really hurting our cause. These kinds of penalties are unacceptable and our players need to be more responsible for their actions or they will find themselves stuck to the bench or playing elsewhere.”
Although goaltending was an issue early in the season, starter Ryan Ferguson is back to last year’s all-star form as he has kept his team in contention on many occasions and has been named the Eagles “Star of the Game” on five occasions. Backup and rookie Levi Nelson is also a perfect 2-0 in his two starts.
In their 15 games to date, the Eagles have been outshot by a 549-453 margin, including some lopsided period totals where they were totally dominated and outshot 18-3 by Drumheller (Oct. 17), 22-4 by Brooks (Oct. 10), 19-3 by Sherwood Park (Oct. 3), and 21-7 by Fort McMurray (Sept. 21).
“With the exception of a few games early in the season, goaltending has been our strong point this season and they have certainly kept us in a lot of games when we were badly outplayed,” said Milne. “Our players should be very grateful that our goaltenders have played so well and bailed them out so many times. If we are to be successful in this league, all of our players need to start thinking defence first, pay more attention to our own end, and stop worrying about their offensive numbers. Defence wins hockey games and we need to start playing that way on a consistent basis. It’s all about attention to detail, hard work and commitment – 100% of the time.”
NOTEBOOK: The Eagles will start their second quarter of their AJHL schedule with a road game in Okotoks against the Oilers on Friday, Oct. 24 before returning to Canmore for a Saturday night (Oct. 25) game against the Bonnyville Pontiacs. In their only meeting this season, the Pontiacs scored four powerplay goals and dropped the Eagles 4-1 at the Showcase Weekend on Sept. 27.