CLARENVILLE, N.L. — The Bentley Generals couldn’t solve netminder Steve Christie and the defensive system of the Southeast Prairie Thunder in Saturday’s Allan Cup tournament final.
The Steinbach, Man., based Prairie Thunder executed their trap to perfection en route to a 2-0 victory over the Generals. It didn’t hurt that Christie, who made 43 saves in a 4-1 semifinal win over the host Clarenville Caribous less than 24 hours earlier, turned in a flawless 27-save performance and acted as a third defenceman with his puck-handling abilities.
“They had a system and they stuck to it all tournament,” said Generals head coach Ryan Tobler. “They also had a goalie who plays the puck. We knew what we were up against. Give them credit.”
As it turned out, the Manitoba/Saskatchewan senior AAA hockey champs got the only goal they needed when Mark Agnew snapped a scoreless tie with a power-play goal at 14:41 of the second period. Agnew, in the slot, one-timed a pass from Rob Smith past Bentley netminder Dustin Butler, who finished with 23 saves.
The Generals pressed late in the period and nearly got on the board when Cam Maclise rang a shot off the post. Shawn Limpwright, all alone in front of Butler, then potted an insurance marker at 4:24 of the final frame, converting a feed from former NHL forward Terry Yake.
Bentley applied pressure down the stretch but the team was hampered by late penalties.
As the lone AAA team in Manitoba, the Prairie Thunder played a limited exhibition schedule prior to meeting the Saskatchewan representative Rosetown Red Wings in a playoff series in late March to determine a berth in the Allan Cup. Southeast swept that best-of-five inter-provincial set and then went 4-0 at the Canadian championship tournament.
“That’s a team that doesn’t play together all year, although they have some experienced guys,” said Tobler, whose Chinook Hockey League club dropped just two games this season — one during the 24-game CHL schedule and one in the Alberta playoffs — prior to the Allan Cup final.
“It’s real disheartening for a team that practises every Wednesday and battles together all year to lose in that fashion.”
Still, the Generals enjoyed a wildly successful season and never pulled the pin at any point during Saturday’s contest or during any of the two divisional games and Friday’s 5-4 overtime semifinal win over Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.
“The guys had a great tournament, but this wasn’t the result we wanted,” said Tobler. “We lost three games all year and the last one is obviously the toughest.
“I’m proud. Manitoba beat Clarenville, Grand Falls-Windsor and us. They earned it. You have to tip your hat.”
As Tobler noted, he and his players may actually profit from the setback.
“It’s disheartening, but maybe it’s another learning step for myself and some of the guys,” he said. “We’ll come back next season as determined as ever.”
With the disappointment of Saturday’s loss still lingering roughly two hours after the conclusion of the game, Tobler couldn’t predict how many players might return for the 2015-16 season.
“It’s going to take some time for guys to think about that,” he said. “It was pretty quiet for an hour or so after the game.”
The Prairie Thunder will host the 2016 Allan Cup tournament in Steinbach.