By Craig Campbell
Dundas Star News
Falling to the defensively-focused South East Prairie Thunder by a 3-1 score Tuesday night, Bentley Generals will need three straight wins in three days to defend their Allan Cup championship title.
But Generals forward Matt Stefanishion said his team is prepared for the challenge.
“We work on our conditioning all year,” Stefanishion said, noting bringing the Allan Cup back to Alberta will mean playing five games in five days, and winning the last three – after losing the first two.
“We prepared for this.”
Tuesday night, Bentley put plenty of pressure on two Prairie Thunder goalies. Mark Friesen started but left the game with an injury in the first period, and Steve Christie filled in.
“We are very fortunate to have them both,” said Thunder head coach Jamie Leach. “The plan was to start Christie in game one and Friesen in game two.”
Leach said his team eliminated errors it made in their opening game loss to Dundas. They didn’t hand Bentley any scoring opportunities.
“Our defencemen are really strong. That’s a strength of our team,” he said.
Despite spending plenty of time in their opponent’s end, Bentley didn’t get a lot of pucks to the net consistently.
Stefanishion scored Bentley’s only goal – a hard, rising shot from the point over Christie’s right shoulder and into the twine. It made the score 3-1 with almost four minutes left to play in the final period.
“They did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone,” Stefanishion said of Prairie Thunder’s defence.
Generals head coach Ryan Tobler said the Thunder bottled up the area around the net pretty well, something that can be done proficiently on the relatively small ice surface at J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas, Ontario.
“There’s not a lot of room,” Tobler said.
“We’ve got to find a way to bear down and get (the puck) to the net. Sometimes you can make a goalie look good, and we’re doing that.”
The threat of elimination for all teams — expect division winners Dundas Real McCoys and Clarenville Caribous who won both their round-robin games and have reserved their spots in Friday’s semi-final games – starts Thursday.
Leach said the Thunder was looking for the win over Bentley in order to secure the later 7:30 p.m. game against Kenora.
He said they play well against Kenora, but were particularly focused on getting the later start rather than a 3:30 p.m. quarter final against Brantford.
“We wanted that for our confidence. And because of our age, we wanted that few hours rest,” Leach said.
Terry Yake, a 44-year-old veteran of 403 NHL games, scored the Thunder’s first goal less than two minutes into the game. Tyler Dittmer picked up the assist. Riley Dudar made it 2-0 Thunder less than two minutes into the second period, and Dustin Degagne made it 3-0 mid-way through the third period.
For Bentley, the three days of win-or-go-home games begins against southern Ontario champion Brantford Blast who split their two games so far. But Tobler doesn’t care much who the opposing team is. Bentley’s focussed on their own game.
“There are six good teams in this tournament,” Tobler said. “We’ll look at some things tonight and we’ll change some things up.”
As he said after Tuesday night’s loss to host Dundas, Bentley needs to play with an urgency. Now they’re all aware of the need to win, starting Thursday.
“We’re more than capable of doing it,” Tobler said. “We have the experience. We have the depth.”
Bentley meets Brantford in the first quarter final at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Prairie Thunder plays Kenora in the second quarter final at 7:30 p.m. The winners advance to meet either Dundas or Clarenville in Friday’s semi final games.