By Craig Campbell
Dundas Star News
DUNDAS, ONT. – Bentley Generals are still getting used to the small Grightmire Arena ice surface, but figured out a way to get pucks to the net with a 3-2 quarter-final win over Brantford Blast in the Allan Cup national hockey championship in Dundas, Ontario, Thursday afternoon.
The tight game – despite Bentley’s incredible 21 first period shots on net – earns the Generals a spot in today’s afternoon’s semifinal against the Clarenville Caribous of Newfoundland. It’s a rematch of last year’s Allan Cup championship final for a spot in this year’s title game. Bentley won last year’s meeting 3-0. Three years ago, Clarenville topped Bentley 5-3 to win the Allan Cup.
“It’s a tough rink to play in. We’re still finding our way,” Bentley head coach Ryan Tobler said of Grightmire Arena, which is about 10 feet shorter than a standard NHL-size ice surface.
“You’ve got to battle for every inch out there.”
Tobler said Dundas Real McCoys took advantage of knowing their home rink in a victory over the Generals earlier in the week. He said Bentley is still trying to figure out how to build any speed through the tight neutral zone, and the coaching staff keeps reminding defencemen they have to act quickly with the puck
“They’re on top of you – you don’t have the time,” Tobler said.
Kyle Sheen was one of the three Generals who found the net in Thursday’s win, after two games of struggles for most Bentley goal scorers.
He agreed adjusting to the size of the rink is the team’s biggest challenge right now.
“We’re a puck possession team,” Sheen said. “And you don’t have too much time out there.”
He said getting 33 shots on net – particularly with a strong goalie – was key. Now the Generals have to deal with leading Allan Cup goalie Jason Churchill of Clarenville in the next win-or-go-home match Friday.
Sheen figures the plan will be to keep getting pucks and bodies in front of the net and working hard to get a few favourable bounces.
“If you let (Churchill) see the puck he’ll make the save,” he said. “In this size of barn, I don’t think you’ll see a lot of pretty goals.”
After losing both of their preliminary games, Bentley came out flying against Brantford in the first win-or-go-home match for both teams. The Generals built a 2-0 lead on goals from Randall Gelech and Kyle Bailey. Brantford goalie Brett Leggat stopped 19 Generals shots in the opening frame.
“We were lucky to get out of the period down 2-1,” Leggat said. “But that was the story of our tournament. Our first period was our worst period of every game.”
Brantford broke through with a powerplay goal from Chris Leveille to cut Bentley’s lead to 2-1 with six and a half minutes left in the first period.
Both teams killed penalties successfully in the scoreless, and slower, second period. They headed into the final 20 minutes with Bentley still up by just one goal.
Four minutes into the third, Bentley’s Sheen found the net for a power play goal to create a two goal gap. Bailey assisted.
But with just under four minutes left, Brandon Dietrich scored a shorthanded goal for Brantford to close the gap to 3-2.
Leggat left the net for an extra Brantford attacker, but Bentley battled to hold on.
Ken Ebl and three friends from the Bentley area drove three days to Dundas to watch their team in the Allan Cup – and finally enjoyed a victory Thursday afternoon. He said at least 20 fans made the trip from Alberta – but most of them flew.
“It’s a privilege to come here and watch these games. It really is,” Ebl said. “These players are here for the love of the game. The NHL is all about money.”