BY ZACHARY CORMIER
It’s go time for the Bentley Generals.
After two weeks off the ice, the Chinook Hockey League champions are ready for the puck to drop on the 2016 Allan Cup tournament in Steinbach, Manitoba.
“I think everybody’s happy to be here. With a couple of weeks the anticipation grows and we had a few practices. The guys are ready to go,” said Generals’ Head Coach Ryan Tobler on the phone from Steinbach, where the team had just finished their first skate.
The Generals are one of the six teams that qualified for this year’s National Senior Men’s AAA championship and over the course of the next week they will face off against some of the top teams in the country.
“We know what’s at stake and what’s on the line, so we’re very excited,” Tobler said.
As the Pacific representatives, the Gens will face off against the Manitoba representative Ile-des-Chenes North Stars and the Central representative Stoney Creek Generals in the opening round robin games to determine divisional seeding.
“You play your first two. If you win them both, you get the bye (to the semi-finals). If you don’t win your division you play in the quarter final game on Thursday,” Tobler explained, noting Bentley will be facing off against teams they haven’t seen yet this season.
Because they didn’t play their first game until Tuesday, the Generals had the advantage of being able to scout out a game between their two divisional rivals on Monday night.
Despite that, though, Tobler had said his team won’t be making too many changes ahead of their Tuesday afternoon bout with Stoney Creek.
“A tournament, you make adjustments, yes but you don’t go changing your identity. We’ll worry about how we play and hopefully it takes care of itself.”
They have some history on their side, though. The last time the Generals played in an Allan Cup tournament in Steinbach was 2009, when they won it all.
“I wasn’t here but some of the guys were in ‘09. It’s an electric building, so we’ll expect that. The crowds will be good. It’s a small ice surface. It’s very short with a small neutral zone. We know what to expect. It’s not the biggest rink but we’re okay with that, it suits our game just fine,” Tobler said, adding the team doesn’t feel any pressure to repeat 2009’s magical run.
“There’s no pressure. I wouldn’t say we came here as the favourite and that’s just the way we like it.”
The Generals will be looking for a little bit of retribution this season after they were defeated in last year’s Allan Cup final by the host South East Prairie Thunder.
“You want to redeem yourself and get another crack at it after you get so close. You can’t control who you’re going to play. So we’re going to go and try to win a hockey game tonight and see how it plays out. Either way, you know, like they say you don’t look ahead, you worry about the now and get the job done.
This year, like last, the Generals will also be getting some help behind the bench from former Nashville Predators goaltender Chris Mason, who currently works as a colour commentator for the Predators radio broadcasts.
“For him to be living and working in Nashville and come up and help us out for this, it speaks volumes about him and what he thinks about our organization and Senior hockey in general,” said Tobler.
Bentley kicked off the 2016 Allan Cup tournament on Tuesday night with a huge 8-2 win over the Stoney Creek Generals to put themselves into a good position going into Wednesday night’s matchup for first place with Ile-des-Chenes.
“We had a little rust to shake off in the first period, but that’s to be expected,” Tobler said.
The first round robin game was actually fairly close for the majority of the first two periods, as Bentley held a 2-0 lead early in the second.
After a couple of traded goals between the two teams in the second, including a pair of power play markers by Stoney Creek, cut Bentley’s lead to just 3-2 late in the middle frame.
But a great effort by Bentley’s Jesse Todd on the power play to make it 4-2 followed by a natural hat trick from Matt Stefanishion quickly put the game out of reach. Final score: 8-2 Bentley.
“We had a huge goal on a great effort by Jesse Todd at the end of the second period, which was a pivotal point in the game, so it was a good all around effort last (Tuesday) night.
The Generals faced off against the Iles-des-Chenes North Stars, who also defeated Stoney Creek, on Wednesday evening to determine who will get the bye into Friday’s semi-finals. The game was not over at press time.
A full schedule and scores as well as a link to the live audio webcast for all games can be found on the Allan Cup web site at www.allancup.ca. The 2016 Allan Cup Final takes place this Saturday at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on TSN 3.