The Lacombe Generals are just four wins away from advancing to the Allan Cup tournament.
After cruising through the Chinook Hockey League regular season with a 19-3 record, the Generals continued their romp towards the national championship tournament this past weekend, completing a first round playoff sweep of the Ft. Saskatchewan Chiefs.
Lacombe closed out the best-of-seven semi-final series against the Chiefs with a pair of weekend victories including a come-from-behind 5-4 win on Friday night in Lacombe and a convincing 5-1 victory in Ft. Saskatchewan on Sunday.
Things weren’t looking quite so straightforward for the defending Allan Cup champions on Friday, though.
A slow start to the second period for the Generals allowed their opponents to jump out to a one-goal lead early in the middle frame of the contest after the two teams traded a goal each in the first period.
Ft. Saskatchewan’s defense and goaltending managed to hold off the Gen’s high-flying offense until the final two minutes of the second, when Riley Sheen potted the game tying goal for the home side.
Any momentum the Army gained from that goal, however, would be short-lived.
Shortly after the start of the third period, the Chiefs’ power play converted on a pair of golden opportunities to give their team a two-goal lead with just 10 minutes remaining in the game.
“It’s a testament to the guys in the room. We want to end this in four, no one wants to drag this out. We want to get as much rest as we can before we have to get ready to play Stony (Plain) or Innisfail,” said Generals forward Myles Bell, who scored the game winning goal late in the third period on Friday.
The home squad did just that, scoring a trio of goals in the final eight minutes to come away with the 5-4 win in regulation.
According to Generals Head Coach Curtis Austring, the adversity the team faced in their Friday night matchup with the Chiefs was a valuable test for a team which hasn’t been pushed very much this season.
“I think everyone wants the competition. This is part of the whole process of winning is really the journey. The journey of having to overcome, having to face some adversity. I thought this was just another test for our guys. Kudos to them for the resiliency they showed,” Austring said.
“When they got their fourth one there it kind of perked up the bench for sure and I think we kind of got our motivator back working again. We had lots of good chances kind of throughout the game but it was just one of those games where you had to work almost especially hard to make some things happen.”
The turning point for the Generals came at 8:11 in the third when Riley Sheen made a great play to steal the puck from a Ft. Saskatchewan defenseman and finished with a goal to draw the team back within just a single goal.
“That picked everyone up and then it just felt like a matter of time before we were going to get the next one,” Austring said.
From there it was all Generals.
Teegan Moore picked up the game-tying goal with 4:59 left in the final frame.
Just over a minute later, Bell shovelled the game-winning goal past Chiefs goalie Ryan Demharter to seal the victory for Lacombe.
“Luckily we took advantage of a breakdown in their end and I was fortunate enough that it went off the goalie’s pad and in. Sometimes the hockey gods are working in your favour on a night like that and I’m just happy it went in,” said Bell of the goal.
Jacob Deserres picked up the win between the pipes for the Generals with a 42 save performance.
The momentum from the come from behind win apparently didn’t die between games, either.
Unlike the dramatic finish to the game two nights earlier, Sunday’s matchup was a more one-sided affair.
Despite a scoreless first period the Gens stepped on the gas in the second and third, pouring 23 shots on Chiefs goaltender Garret Kindred in the final two frames and converting on five of those chances.
Moore and Eric Galbraith led the way for the Generals with a pair of goals each and Alex Macleod added another marker to seal the series for the defending champs.
Starting goalie Kraymer Barnstable picked up the win with a 24-save performance.
The Lacombe Generals now have some time to rest and recuperate as they await to see who their opponent will be in the championship series.
At the time of writing, the Stony Plain Eagles lead the Innisfail Eagles 3-2 in their best-of-seven series. That series will be decided next weekend.