The Bentley Generals responded in a positive manner when faced with their first bit of adversity in the McKenzie Cup series.
After rolling to a pair of wins in the best-of-five Alberta/B.C. senior AAA hockey championship at the Red Deer Arena, the defending Allan Cup champions were finally put to the test in Game 3 Saturday after blowing a two-goal lead in the final minute.
Andrew Derton scored 15 seconds apart — at 19:37 and 19:52 — to pull the Powell River Regals into a 5-5 tie and force overtime, which ended quickly when Bentley defenceman Jason Lundmark rang a point shot off the cross-bar and in at 1:29 of the extra frame to give the Generals a 6-5 victory and a sweep of the interprovincial set.
“It was a good faceoff win by Rubes (captain Sean Robertson). I hadn’t had a lot of shots in the series so I thought I’d just shoot and it found its way in,” said Lundmark.
“I heard the bar and I saw someone jump in front, and yeah, it was definitely a good feeling.”
The Regals’ late rally, in front of about 600 fans, and Lundmark’s winning marker accounted for most of the dramatics in a series that was otherwise pretty much ruled by the Generals.
“We don’t want to start making habits of it, but it made for more drama,” said Lundmark. “It’s a lot of fun when it does happen that way, but we have to make sure we win games in 60 minutes. We kind of let them off the hook in the final minute, but it’s a good feeling to win a championship.”
With the victory, Bentley advanced to the 2014 Allan Cup tournament April 14-19 in Dundas, Ont., where they will be joined by the host Real McCoys, the Southeast Prairie Thunder of Manitoba, the Clarenville, Nfld., Caribous, the Kenora, Ont., Thistles, and the Ontario Hockey Federation champion Brantford Blast.
The Generals appeared to be well on their way to a regulation-time sweep when Kyle Sheen snapped a 3-3 draw at 11:28 of the third period and especially when Keenan Desmet scored Bentley’s fifth goal five minutes later. But the Regals persevered in the final minute to give the hosts somewhat of a scare.
“That’s not the way we drew it up, but we take positives from everything and we’ll chalk that up to a learning experience, at probably the right time,” said Generals head coach Ryan Tobler. “We got away with it tonight, live and learn. We’ll use that going forward.
“I’ve been impressed with the character and resiliency of the boys all year, coming up with clutch goals. That’s been the difference for us this season.”
After Connor Shields opened the scoring for the Generals just 86 seconds into the contest, Scott May potted back-to-back goals 12 minutes apart to give the Regals their first lead of the series.
Kyle Bailey got one back for the Generals before the first period ended — his quick release from 30 feet out beating Powell River netminder Cory McEachran — and Sheen scored his first of two on the afternoon 5:09 of the second period, breaking down the right side and picking the far corner.
Chad Eauverman pulled the visitors even with a power-play tally just over four minutes later, his high shot from the top of the circle eluding Generals netminder James Reid and setting the stage for the third-period theatrics.
Reid finished with 23 saves, while McEachran stopped 35 shots.
“This is precious,” said Robertson, who will be gunning for his third Allan Cup ring at Dundas. “You start every year hoping you can get to this point and there are always some bumps along the way. But this definitely doesn’t get old.
“The new guys who came in this year caught on quickly to what it means to our organization to put our best foot forward. This means a lot to everyone involved and we’re very proud of what we have here.”
After finishing first in the Chinook Hockey League this season, Bentley never lost a game, sweeping the Stony Plain Eagles and Innisfail Eagles in the provincial semifinals and final, then taking out the Regals in straight games. The series versus arch-rival Innisfail provided the Generals with their toughest test this spring.
“I don’t think we’re going to see teams like Innisfail in the (Allan) Cup,” said Robertson. “I think we’re going to see some veteran teams there that play like this group (Regals), which is more of a veteran, talented group.
“We’ll see teams that rely on systems more than anything else. Playing Innisfail was an absolute war and we were lucky to get out of that alive.”
Tobler agreed that the McKenzie Cup series featured little of the animosity that the Alberta final with Innisfail was basically all about.
“We’re talking a tale of two series. We were coming off a very emotional battle against a team that wanted to beat us so bad,” said Tobler.
“Give these guys (Regals) credit, throwing a team together like they did and pushing us to the limit today. It was a hell of a ride.”
“For what they came with . . . to put a team together at this time of the year, they battled hard,” he said.
“I don’t know if they knew what they were up against with us, a team that’s played all season long. But give them credit, especially today. They put it all out there.”
The Regals took the assignment as B.C. representatives in the McKenzie Cup series despite not playing a single game together this season as a team.
“Although the team has been around a long, long time, we had a lot of new faces this year and some younger kids who had never played at this level,” said Powell River coach Rick Hopper. “I’m really proud of them. They did us proud, for sure.
“Today was our best game of the series and no doubt we would have got better and better if it went a couple more games. But they (Generals) have such a deep club. Like I told (Bentley manager) Jeff McInnis at the end, they’re a total class act. They’re deep, they’re good and I think they’re going to do well in the Cup.”
The Generals will get in a couple of practices this week before departing for Dundas next Monday. Bentley will play the host team the following day.
“We’ll stay on top of things,” said Tobler.
“We’ve preached conditioning all season long and we’ll stay on top of that.
“The competition is going to get pretty stiff moving forward so we’ll have to be ready. We’ll have to clean up some areas for sure, but everything is positive going forward.”