BY ZACHARY CORMIER
It was a redemption story for the ages in Steinbach, Manitoba last week as the Bentley Generals overcame the South East Prairie Thunder after going undefeated at the Allan Cup tournament to become Canada’s national Senior Men’s AAA hockey champions.
Just one year after falling to the Prairie Thunder at the 2015 Allan Cup, the Generals got sweet revenge, defeating the Allan Cup hosts 4-3 in overtime of the final game to cement the third Allan Cup title in franchise history.
“You just talk about second chances. You don’t get too many of them in life and we just felt like we had one and we’re just going to lay it all out on the line no matter what,” said Generals’ Head Coach Ryan Tobler after returning home from Steinbach.
It was a dramatic finish to a year full of ups and downs for the Generals, who just one month ago were just one goal away from elimination at the hands of the Innisfail Eagles in the first round of the Chinook Hockey League (ChHL) playoffs.
The Generals who — in the Chinook League Final — scored the winning goal in double overtime in front of a raucous crowd of 1,500 and booked their ticket in the Allan Cup tournament.
“Just after everything we’ve been through this year. The ups and downs, the adversity, the challenges we faced. It was such an emotional year, it’s crazy,” recalled Tobler of the season.
That adversity, Tobler said, was the key difference between his team’s success at this year’s Allan Cup as opposed to last.
“Going through what we went through in the semi-finals with Innisfail and in the finals with Stony Plain, who played very well too, that series was a lot closer than 4-1. So I just felt like we were way more prepared and it showed.”
The preparation, it turns out, made all the difference as Bentley didn’t miss a single step last week in Steinbach.
The Pacific representatives started strong in round robin play with an 8-2 rout of the Stoney Creek Generals before pulling off a 4-3 win over the Iles-des-Chenes North Stars to earn a bye to the semi-final game against the Shellbrook Elks, who they defeated 3-1 to book their ticket to Saturday’s final against the Prairie Thunder.
It wasn’t the first time the two clubs have met in Steinbach to decide the national champion – back in 2009 the Generals defeated the host Prairie Thunder 4-3 in double overtime to win their first ever title.
Including this year, the two teams have met on senior hockey’s biggest stage three times in the last 10 years.
So needless to say the stakes were pretty high.
“You play the South East Prairie team, they’re so stingy defensively. I mean we were down three times in that (final) game,” Tobler said.
Despite trailing South East three separate times throughout the game, Bentley just wouldn’t quit. In the end, 21-year-old Generals’ forward Carter Rigby was the Allan Cup hero.
Rigby scored Bentley’s first goal of the game and was in position to tip in the overtime winner for his team. His efforts earned him the General’s MVP award for the game.
“It’s unbelievable. Everyone wants to be the hero — you dream about it. So to get (the game-winning goal) in a game like this means the world to me,” said Rigby after the game.
“He’s been around the net all year for us. It’s a great tip. You don’t really appreciate it when you watch it live like that, but when you watch the replay and realize how he got a stick on that — that’s pretty special,” Tobler said of the former Kelowna Rocket.
It was the perfect way to cap off the Generals’ final season in Bentley, where the team has played since their inaugural season in 1999. Next season the Generals will play out of Lacombe as the Lacombe Generals.
“The Bentley fans that traveled, and have travelled for so long to all of these tournaments. To win it, to go out like that — you know we all look forward to the parade and the send off — but one chapter ends, and it was a storybook one at that, and another one begins,” Tobler said.