The Bentley Generals are returning to the Red Deer Arena Monday for a traditional Family Day contest.
“This will be the fifth year in a row,” Generals GM Jeff McInnis said Tuesday.
This year, for the first time, the opponents will be the Sylvan Lake Admirals, who will hook up with the Gens in the opening game of a best-of-seven provincial senior AAA hockey semifinal.
But first things first — and that’s tonight’s deciding game of the best-of-three Chinook Hockey League final at Bentley, where the Generals will host the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs at 8:30 p.m.
“This (CHL championship) isn’t necessarily the apple of our eye, but once you’re in any series it becomes pretty simple — you want to win it,” said McInnis. “The league title is certainly something we want to win, something we take pride in.”
The Generals won the opening game of the league final 4-1 at home last Friday, then fell 4-2 the following night at Fort Saskatchewan despite outshooting their guests 44-22.
“I thought we outplayed them (Saturday) but the chances we gave them were great chances and they scored,” said McInnis. “At the same time, I thought we were kind of flat in the first period and didn’t have a tremendous amount of great chances. Really, any team can beat any team at any time and that’s a good team up there.
“We certainly look forward to redeeming ourselves tomorrow night. It would look bad for a team that thinks they have a chance to win a national championship to not win their league playoffs, and we’re well aware of that.”
The Generals, who will host the Allan Cup tournament — the Canadian senior AAA hockey championship — April 15-20 at the Red Deer Arena, welcomed three new players to their roster last weekend. Joining the club for the first two games of the CHL final were forwards Trent Hunter and Jeremy Colliton and netminder Dan Bakala.
Hunter, a Red Deer product, played 497 games in the NHL and had seasons of 20 and 25 goals with the New York Islanders, while Colliton, 28, was a first-round WHL bantam draft pick of the Prince Albert Raiders who went on to play 57 NHL games.
After graduating from the Calgary Royals of the AJHL, Bakala, 25, turned in three solid seasons at the NCAA Division 1 level with Bemidji State and last winter was with Tulsa of the minor pro Central League.
McInnis pursued Colliton after Generals No. 1 centre Eric Schneider got an offer from Hamburg of the German League following the end of the NHL lockout and subsequent exit of NHL stars Jamie Benn and Paul Statsny.
“That was a big blow to our battleship,” said McInnis of the loss of Schneider. “It just so happened that Jeremy was coming off an injury and wasn’t able to find a pro job before he was healthy, so he was available to us.”
Bakala gives the Generals some goaltending insurance, joining starter Travis Yonkman and sometimes back-up Jase Weslosky, whose job as an Edmonton paramedic makes it unlikely that he’ll be available to the Gens throughout their playoff run.
Hunter, 32, is clearly the biggest name of the three additions.
“And he’s not 36 or 38. He’s 32, and that’s a big difference,” said McInnis.
The remainder of the provincial AAA semifinal schedule:
Game 2: Feb. 22 at Sylvan Lake, 8:30 p.m.; Game 3: Feb. 23 at Bentley, 7 p.m.; Game 4: March 1 at Sylvan Lake, 8:30 p.m.; Game 5 (if necessary): March 2 at Bentley, 7 p.m.; Game 6 (if necessary): March 8 at Sylvan Lake, 8:30 p.m.; Game 7 (if necessary): March 9 at Bentley, 7 p.m.