BY ZACHARY CORMIER
For the second straight season, and the eighth time in the past decade, the Bentley Generals will be the Pacific representatives at the Allan Cup tournament as the 2016 Chinook Hockey League champions.
The Generals secured their spot in Canada’s Senior Men’s AAA hockey tournament, Saturday, after a 5-4 double overtime thriller against the Stony Plain Eagles in front of a near-capacity crowd at Lacombe’s Barnett Arenas during Game 5 of theChHL final.
“It’s not hard to get up for. You work so hard, it’s just going to be so gratifying for these guys. What we went through in these two tough, tough fought series,” said Generals’ Head Coach Ryan Tobler after last Saturday’s win, which secured a 4-1 series victory for the Generals.
Tobler added this year has been a much tougher path to the ChHL championship than in previous seasons, as the Gens had to make it through two tough series in order to make it back to the tournament, which this year will be held in Steinbach,Manitoba, first fighting through the seven game grind that was the series against the Innisfail Eagles before having to facedown former NHL All-Star Ryan Smyth and his Stony Plain team.
“Maybe we needed this push that we didn’t get in the past couple of years. We weren’t pushed like this. Not even close. Hatsoff to Innisfail and Stony, they gave us all we could handle. We hope we can use this and be real good in Manitoba.”
Despite coming off seven of the toughest games they had played all season, Bentley were the clear front runners in the first game of the final, rolling to a convincing 4-1 margin.
Stony struck back quickly, though, and took a 6-2 win in their own rink the very next night.
It was the only game they would be able to win, though. The Gens roared back to consecutive 5-2 and 7-4 victories in thenext two games respectively to force the Eagles into a must-win situation for Game 5.
“We used everybody to achieve this, so it was a total team effort in every aspect,” Tobler noted.
A see-saw battle in the first period saw Bentley take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission thanks to goals by Matt Stefanishion and Curtis Austring.
Penalty trouble early in the second almost proved to be the Generals’ undoing, though, as Stony took advantage of a five on three opportunity to chalk up a pair of power play markers, 3-2. Five minutes later, Burke Gallimore shovelled the puck byBentley goaltender Thomas Heemskirk to put his team up 4-2.
To make matters worse for the Gens, Stony Plain goalie Sean Cahill was having one of his best games of the season. Cahill turned aside 22 shots in the first two periods alone and it took until the final four minutes of the second for Bentley to drawwithin a goal of the Eagles heading into the third.
A dramatic last-minute goal by Nathan Deck saved the game for Bentley, though, as the veteran managed to jam a loose puck into the Stony Plain net to force overtime.
“It’s only fitting, just the way it’s gone. You get a huge one to tie it up,” Tobler said, also noting his team was by far the better of the two clubs in the extra frames.
“I thought we tilted the ice in overtime. As a coach and as a player I’ve seen it before when you get that many chances andthey don’t go in.”
Bentley’s forwards could not catch a break through the first 20-minute overtime period. Shots were ringing off of posts and sailing wide of the net or getting blocked by the traffic in front. By the end of the game the Gens had directed 50 shotstoward Cahill while the Eagles had only taken 23 the other way.
It was Generals’ veteran Kyle Bailey who ended up being the overtime hero, ripping a shot past Cahill to win the game and the championship.
“We got rewarded for the hard work and that’s what you like to see,” Tobler said.
As last year’s runner-up, the Generals will be looking for a bit of retribution when they head into the 2016 Allan Cup tournament later this month.
“We’ll enjoy this one tonight, then we’ll be back to work on Wednesday at practice.”
The 2016 Allan Cup kicks off in Steinbach, Manitoba on April 11th.
It will be the team’s final trip to the tournament as the Bentley Generals before they move to Lacombe for next season.