It was a weird night that ended in jubilation for the home side.
The celebration was still somewhat subdued for the Lacombe Generals when the final buzzer sounded at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex Sunday, mostly because the scoreboard listed a 3-3 tie.
On most nights that means overtime, especially in the playoffs.
Only that tie this time around meant the Generals clinched the 2019 Hockey Alberta Senior AAA Provincial title, winning the two-game total goal series over the rival Innisfail Eagles. It was their 13th provincial hockey banner in the last 16 years, nine of which came as the Bentley Generals.
Lacombe earned the two-game total goal victory thanks to a 4-1 win Saturday night in Innisfail and they were essentially playing with house money when they tied 3-3 Sunday.
“It was a summary of our season. We didn’t do it pretty and kind of found a way to do it, even though we didn’t win the game,” said Generals captain Brennan Evans, who has been with Lacome for the last three provincial titles.
“We knew where we were at because of (Saturday). We have a good feeling going into next week. The two-game total point is kind of weird in hockey. You don’t see that very often. It’s a character thing and there’s a lot of pride in that room. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we’ve won the province, 13 of the past 16 years.”
Chad Robinson opened the scoring Sunday for Innisfail and had the only goal of the first period.
In the second, a four-minute high sticking call put the Eagles down two men and 14 seconds into the advantage, Nathan Deck cashed in a one-timer for the Generals to tie the game.
Generals forward Steven Phee broke the deadlock early in the third, but Kurt Bensmiller evened the contest later in the frame.
Lacombe minor hockey product Taylor Mulder scored the go-ahead goal for Innisfail late in the third, but they still had to pull the goalie with over two minutes to play, down two in the total goal series.
Cody Cartier cashed an empty-net goal for Lacombe to tie the game with 27 seconds left.
“It doesn’t really indicate who the better team was in the series. I thought we had a good game (Sunday),” said Eagles defenceman Blair Mulder.
“We came out and we had them. Not usually are you up in a game and you pull your goalie. We were trying to get the lead for the series. Good game, fast-paced. I thought we out-played them. It was good to set the tone going into next week.”
The distaste was clear from the opening faceoff Sunday, beyond the final buzzer even into the handshake line. The two teams combined for 62 penalty minutes on Sunday and even as opponents they might respect each other, but make no mistake, the hate runs deep.
It was a difficult series in that sense on both sides, especially considering they had both already booked a spot in the 2019 Allan Cup, starting April 8 in Lacombe.
“It was goal of ours and we accomplished it. It wasn’t easy and it took all of us to do it. It’s nice when you earn your way in and we earned our way in,” said Generals head coach Sean Robertson.
“Our focus was that these were very important games and we had to approach it the right way. We didn’t want to take a step back.”
Both teams start the Allan Cup on Monday, April 8. Innisfail will play the Rosetown Red Wings at 4 p.m. and Lacombe will take play the South East Prairie Thunder of Manitoba at 8 p.m.