The Bentley Generals have fashioned a seemingly comfortable 3-0 provincial senior AAA hockey semifinal lead over the Stony Plain Eagles the old-fashioned way — they’ve earned it.
After winning Game 1 of the series 6-2 at Bentley Friday, the Generals pulled out a 3-0 victory on enemy ice 24 hours after and slipped past the Eagles 3-2 before 600 fans Monday at the Red Deer Arena on an overtime goal from Keenan Desmet.
The fourth and possibly final game of the best-of-seven set is slated for Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Stony Plain.
“That’s what you expect at this time of the year — nothing comes easy,” said Generals forward Chris Neiszner, who scored once and assisted on the winner as the defending Allan Cup champions found a way to prevail. “The first two games of this series were not easy and today was exactly the same.
“It was scratch and claw to the end.”
Neiszner carried the puck to the net to set up the winning goal, which saw Desmet bury a rebound with 32 seconds remaining in the 10-minute extra session.
“I dropped the puck to Neiszner at the end of my shift. I was going to go off after I went to the net,” said Desmet. “I went to the net and Neiszner shot and left me a rebound that popped out to my stick.”
The Eagles were rapidly running out of time when Nik Yaremchuk caught the low corner of the net from 15 feet out with 1.6 seconds to play in the third period, forcing overtime.
To that point, Neiszner’s early third-period goal was looming large as the winner. The former Red Deer Rebels player and assistant coach worked his way out from behind the net and beat Eagles netminder Clayton Wilburn top shelf to snap a 1-1 tie.
The Generals opened the scoring 15:17 into the first period when Randall Gelech’s bad-angle backhand somehow got past Wilburn. The visitors pulled even at 13:25 of the second period, as Brandon Kosolofsky snapped a one-timer past Bentley netminder Travis Yonkman with Gens defenceman Brett Thurston serving an interference penalty.
But once again, the Generals found a way to prevail and take a commanding 3-0 series lead back to Stony Plain.
“They forced OT late and we had to the momentum back,” said Neiszner. “Nothing builds momentum for the next game like an overtime goal.”
The Generals pulled out the win despite being minus the services of head coach Ryan Tobler (one game for a misconduct in the last 10 minutes) and players Kyle Sheen (one game) and Matt Stefanishion (two games for a slashing major), all of whom drew suspensions from Saturday’s Game 2.
“I don’t think it’s a secret. Our depth is no different than last year, it’s our strength,” said Neiszner. “We were short guys today but every guy stepped up. We just keep rolling and don’t change anything.
“We had 10 forwards and six defenceman today and we just kept going after them (Eagles). That’s what you need to do.”
Both goaltenders were sharp as Yonkman blocked 26 shots and Wilburn made 31 saves, including a second-period breakaway stop on Craig Weller.
l Neiszner, Curtis Austring and Don Morrison scored for the Generals Saturday at Stony Plain. James Reid made 28 saves in the Bentley net and Wilburn stopped 25 shots for the Eagles.
The Generals opened the series with a 6-2 victory Friday at Bentley, getting two goals from Connor Shields and singles courtesy of Morrison, Gelech, Neiszner and Stefanishion. Kosolofsky and Mike Desjarlais were the only Eagles to beat Yonkman, who made 22 saves.
Wade Waters made 32 saves for Stony Plain.
l The Innisfail Eagles will host the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs in Game 3 of the other provincial semifinal Friday with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1.
The Chiefs drew even with a 5-4 win Sunday at home. Jamie Marshall, Steele Boomer, Ryan Smith, Brian Woolger and Doug Auchenberg scored for the winners, with Travis Dunstall, Shawn Bates, Tylor Keller and Mike Sullivan replying for the Eagles.
The Eagles drew first blood at home Friday, as Keller tallied twice in a 6-3 win. Bates, Darryl Laplante, Chad Ziegler and Joe Vandermeer also scored for Innisfail, while Chad Klassen, Adam Scott and Brant Middleton replied for the Chiefs.
Eagles netminder Jonathan Larose made 23 saves. Jim Watt stopped 26 shots for the visitors.