BY KALISHA MENDONSA
The beloved Lacombe Generals army fought hard for their place in the Allan Cup Championship, but unfortunately fell short in the final game of the tournament.
The Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts swept the title from underneath the Gens, taking home the Allan Cup with a 7-4 final score on April 15th.
The five-day tournament was an intense showdown among some of the country’s best teams, and was hosted in Bouctouche, New Brunswick.
Generals Head Coach Curtis Austring said although they didn’t take home the win, he’s still extremely proud of what they accomplished this season.
“To me, this is some of the best hockey you can see in the country. At our level, it’s the pinnacle – everybody gears up for the Allan Cup,” he said.
“As far as the competition goes, this is one of the deepest pools of teams that we could possibly face.”
As a former Gens player and Allan Cup Champion himself, Austring personally knows the effort it takes to make it to the top – and to fall short at the last call.
“I think there’s a number of guys who’ve come up and said at the end of the day, they still can’t wait for next year.
“As a player, I remember sitting in Newfoundland after we’d lost to South East [Prairie Thunder] I had the same mindset – I said, ‘we’re going to come back and take this thing next year’, which we did.
“Once you’ve come that close to winning, and know that you could have won, it’s just tough – and I know we could have won.”
Austring explained that sometimes, games are so hard-fought because the match-up of the teams is just a strong pair. However, he added that he didn’t necessarily feel that was the case this year.
“I think they’re an excellent club, the Cataracts, but we’re a strong team, too, and there’s no reason we couldn’t have won that hockey game, even playing five and five. It just wasn’t in the cards for us that day,” he said, adding the team is walking away from the loss with a lesson.
“I think our discipline wasn’t great, throughout the season, first of all, but ultimately in the tournament. You know, you roll through our league and it’s pretty intense. They’re physical games – a lot more of what I would call ‘playoff hockey’. You get into that tournament, and things kind of change a bit.”
He explained that once you enter the realm of the Allan Cup Championships, the games simply have less room for error. He said there is more of a mental focus among contenders, and issues like penalties can get the better of a team if they’re not careful.
Austring said he felt there were some less-than-worthy calls in the final game but players have to keep their heads cool to avoid building up those penalty calls. During these crucial games, he added, it becomes down to a balance between physical strength and smart moves.
“Even in the finals, there were some calls made that I’d say were marginal calls, but they’re being called penalties regardless – you can’t change that decision,” he said simply.
“But it’s important for our guys to know that sometimes. There are things they might normally do to play physical, and coming into this tournament, you have to play it smart.”
He said this is all part of the learning experience that comes with competition. Ultimately, the loss simply becomes the fuel for next year’s fire.
The Generals have pushed to the final round of the Allan Cup for the last three years, with no intentions of giving up soon. Austring said the support in the community for the team continues to grow, and the dedication of the players becomes more solid each and every year.
“This game is played on the ice, but once you’re around the group – and I’ve been in the vortex for a number of years – you see they’re just good people. They care about each other, they want to win and they’re here for a purpose. With hockey and with competition, when you come with a purpose and a goal – to win the Allan Cup – you’re going to find the right people to do that,” he said.
“These are guys who are competitive. they’re guys who care. When you have that on a team, it’s pretty special to be around. This year was no different.”
Austring said each year, the competition gets tougher and tougher. As the head coach, it’s important to be able to take a loss at face value and bring that back to the team in a way that simply builds them up for the future.
At the close of the first year as the Lacombe Generals, Austring said he’s been thrilled to see the support in the community through the season. Looking forward to next year, he said the momentum will only build as they continue to build up their ‘Army’.
He said the players themselves are each dedicated to the cause of securing the Allan Cup, and he’s excited to see the opportunity come back next year.
“The beauty of this hockey, too, is that it’s not professional, so it really comes down to personal motivation. These guys show up and the rink and compete because they want to – they’re not getting paid to do anything. It all comes down to your personal conviction.”
The Gens will hang up their skates, for now, and look forward to a comeback next year in Rosetown, Saskatchewan during the 2018 Allan Cup Championship.