The Bentley Generals are truly wary of the Stony Plain Eagles.
After rallying from three games down to defeat the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs 4-1 in deciding contest of a best-of-seven Alberta senior AAA hockey semifinal Saturday, the Eagles are clearly not flying under the radar heading into Friday’s provincial championship series opener at Bentley.
The Horse Lake Chiefs learned last year that you can’t take the Eagles for granted — regardless of their regular-season success — when a provincial title is on the line. The Eagles upset the Chiefs last spring to earn a berth in the Allan Cup tournament, and as an Alberta finalist have clinched a spot in this year’s event hosted by the Generals April 15-20 at the Red Deer Arena.
“You definitely can’t underestimate them and at the same time they’re the reigning provincial champions,” Generals head coach Brandin Cote said Wednesday. “They have a lot of guys who played with the team last year, so they’re much the same team.
“Maybe people were surprised at what they did last year as well, but we definitely can not take them lightly. Anything can happen in the playoffs. I know that’s a cliche´, but it’s true and they (Eagles) just proved that last series.”
As Cote noted, the Eagles shocked most observers by roaring back from a 3-0 deficit in games to take out Fort Saskatchewan.
“You look through the history of hockey and not too many teams, in whatever league, came back from three games down to win a series,” said the Bentley bench boss. “We have to really have it in our minds that the Eagles are going to come into this series prepared. They also have the motivation to hang on to the provincial title that they have.
“They’ll be ready to go and it’s going to be a good test for us. That’s great. We want to be playing teams that are at the top of their game because we’re going to face that in a month here (during the Allan Cup). We need to be ready for that and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Eagles finished fourth in the Chinook Hockey League this season with a meagre 4-12-0-0 record, well back of the first-place Generals, who closed at 15-1-0-0 and then defeated Innisfail and Fort Saskatchewan en route to the league championship.
Stony Plain is clearly a different team now — thanks partly to the recent addition of forward Joel Andresen, who has contributed three goals and seven points in four games since rejoining the Eagles from the Provost Blades — but the Generals won’t change their own style in the provincial final.
Cote insisted his club will simply attempt to outwork the Eagles on a nightly basis.
“That’s kind of been our motto all year. We have a lot of skill on our team and the deciding factor in the games that we played well in was our work ethic,” he said.
“If we work within our structure and play our game, we’re tough to beat. If we bring that to the table we’ll be in good shape.”
The series opens Friday at 8 p.m. in Bentley. Game 2 will be played Saturday (7:30 p.m. start) at Stony Plain.
l Organizers have moved 1,350 of the 1,650 available ticket packages for the 2013 Allan Cup tournament and are expecting a sell-out.
“With our choice of venues being the Arena, the atmosphere will be second to none but seating is limited,” said Allan Cup committee chairman Dave Mousseau.
The cost of a ticket package, which covers all 11 games — including the championship final at 5:30 p.m. April 20 which will be televised by TSN — is $200.
Fans unable to attend the games due to a shortage of tickets can watch the action on big-screen televisions in the tournament lounge located in the Red Deer Curling Centre. The lounge will also feature live nightly entertainment.