BY ZACHARY CORMIER
Well, if you’re going to win your long-delayed home ice debut in front of 650 people by only one goal, you might as well give them a finish to remember.
A heart-stopping final 10 seconds, a buzzer sounding and the almost-simultaneous sound of the swish of a puck hitting mesh, all of it accompanied by the sight of a referee frantically waving his arms will live on in the minds of many of the fans who packed into the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex on Friday night to witness the Lacombe Generals’ first game in their new arena when they hosted the Ft. Saskatchewan Chiefs.
“It was a little bit sketchy there at the end but we got it done, so that’s all that matters,” said Generals goalie Kraymer Barnstable of the final 10 seconds of the game, which saw the visitors fire the puck past his sprawling frame and into the net just after the buzzer sounded.
The goal, which would have tied the game and sent it to overtime, was disallowed, however, allowing the Generals to hold on for a 3-2 win in the long-anticipated debut.
“I was saved by the buzzer, at least, so that was nice,” laughed the ‘tender, who stopped 23 of 25 shots directed towards him on the way to the win.
“I thought we made it entertaining, I guess, at the end of the day,” added Generals Head Coach Curtis Austring, adding that despite rather frantic final minute, he was proud of his team’s effort in the game.
“Overall at the end of the day I thought, hey, we competed hard, they competed hard. It was a good home opener.”
Right from the start of the game, the Generals were on their game, peppering Chiefs goalie Ryan Demharter with shots at every opportunity.
On more than one occasion in the opening frame a Generals player would find himself with the puck on his stick and nothing in front of him but a wide open net.
Yet, somehow, the game remained scoreless at the end of the first period.
“The problem becomes if you try and re-invent the wheel,” said Austring of his team’s play in the first.
He explained that sometimes teams who are having as much success as the Generals will struggle to convert on scoring chances for a variety of reasons.
“If you’re getting chances, that’s a good thing. You just have to find a way to bury them. And, more-or-less, that’s a mental thing. It’s your focus level, your hunger around the net. We were having a good period, we were cycling well, we had some good puck possession. We just didn’t have the last play to make a goal of it.”
But that wasn’t a problem in the second period. Just six minutes after the Chiefs scored to break the scoreless tie, Jesse Todd potted the game-tying goal and spurred the Gens’ scorers into action.
Less than four minutes after that, Mike Wirll solved Demharter to give his team a 2-1 lead heading into the second period, a lead which they held onto until the end of the game.
“Our guys, with the talent they’ve got, they found a way,” Austring said, adding that while it wasn’t the prettiest victory, a win is a win.
It was a heck of a way to come home after a two month long road trip that saw the hometown team go 9-1-0 in their first 10 games of the season.
“It’s been pretty awesome to see the guys come together. Especially having all of those road games at the start of the year, it’s helped us bond and it’s helped us come together. It’s been fun. It’s fun to win, so it’s been good to be a part of that,” said Barnstable.
The game was also the first time that the Generals were able to play a game out of their new dressing room at the Sportsplex, which includes all the amenities a high-level hockey team might need, and which the coach also said is an awesome place to be able to hang their jerseys.
“We’re just excited to be here in Lacombe, get the home opener and get a win. The community, that’s what this team’s about. That’s what we love. The game is one thing but hey, it’s the community people here around the game that’s great.”
The Lacombe Generals were back in action on Wednesday night when they hosted the Innisfail Eagles at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex. The game was not over at press time.
The team will play almost all of their remaining regular season games at home this year, save for one out of town date with the Stony Plain Eagles on Jan. 14.