By Zachary Cormier
The Bentley Generals are once again the top team in the Chinook Hockey League (CHL) heading into the playoffs.
The Gens locked up the regular season crown for the fourth year in a row this past weekend after defeating the second-place Stony Plain Eagles in Lacombe on Friday night before defeating the Eagles again on Saturday to finish off a stellar 2015-16 regular season.
“That’s what you try to do, right? You set out goals, you finish first, you want to win the province and then give yourself a chance to win the Allan Cup,” said Generals’ Head Coach Ryan Tobler after Friday night’s game.
Over 1,000 people packed into the Barnett Arenas in Lacombe last Friday evening to see the two top teams in the CHL go toe-to-toe.
Stony Plain trailed the Generals by just six points and had a game in hand going into the weekend’s home and home set, but Bentley held a heavy lead in goal differential, which would decide the first place team in the event of a tie in the standings.
Nevertheless, Friday night’s game was a battle for the ages.
“It’s setting the tone, you know? Playoffs are around the corner for both teams, so I thought it was a good hockey game,” Tobler said.
In fact it may have been one of the most highly contested games of the year. The teams were dead evenly matched through the entire game but in the end the Generals claimed a 2-1 victory thanks to some third-period heroics and good, physical play.
Bentley got off to a flying start in the first period, possessing the puck well and creating a couple of good scoring chances. Stony Plain was without former NHL All Star Ryan Smyth, who joined the team last week but was unable to make either game this weekend.
The game stayed in a scoreless tie with the teams going shot for shot until eight minutes into the first frame, when the Eagles managed to get past Generals’ goaltender Dustin Butler to take a 1-0 lead.
Despite some good forechecking and some excellent chances through the rest of the first and first half of the second, Bentley couldn’t solve Stony Plain’s defense, who were laying some punishing checks on the Army’s offense.
But they couldn’t keep Bentley out forever and, at the seven minute mark of the second, they managed to tie it up thanks to an absolute blast from Graeme Craig. The score would remain tied at one by the end of the second and would not be broken until halfway through the third when Generals leading scorer Kyle Bailey managed to shovel the puck past Sean Cahill for the decisive goal.
They would then go on to defeat the Eagles 8-3 in Stony Plain last Saturday. The win means the ChHL’s 2016 playoff bracket is now set. The first place Gens will take on the last place Innisfail Eagles in the first round while Stony Plain takes on the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs.
The winners of those series will meet in the league final to decide Alberta’s representative at the 2016 Allan Cup in Steinbach, Manitoba.
In addition to finishing up the regular season, last week the Generals also announced their interest in hosting the 2017 Allan Cup.
The original host team, the Kenora Thistles, folded earlier this year and will not be hosting.
“We’ve been to the last eight championship games and I think we’ve been to nine Allan Cup tournaments, so we know the tournament inside and out,” said Generals GM Jeff McInnis about why he thought the Generals, who are moving to Lacombe next season, would be the right team to host the tournament.
The Generals, who are moving to Lacombe next season, last hosted an Allan Cup tournament in 2013 in Red Deer. This time around, though, the team would host in Lacombe.
“We’ve got a venue that’s as good or better, we’ve got the curling rink attached, we’ll have adequate dressing rooms. We’ll have everything we need to put on an event that is what the tournament needs. We can meet all the criteria that we know we need in Lacombe,” McInnis said.
Innisfail and Stony Plain are among the other teams in Alberta interested in hosting the tournament, along with teams from Ontario, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
The 2017 Allan Cup host province will be announced on Thursday, McInnis said. If Alberta is awarded the tournament, the then Lacombe, Stony Plain, and Innisfail will be the three teams in the running to host.