Innisfail Eagles load up on defence

There’s no such animal as too many defencemen. Well aware of that fact, Innisfail Eagles head coach Brian Sutter iced a lineup featuring eight rearguards during last weekend’s Eagles senior AAA hockey preseason tournament.

There’s no such animal as too many defencemen.

Well aware of that fact, Innisfail Eagles head coach Brian Sutter iced a lineup featuring eight rearguards during last weekend’s Eagles senior AAA hockey preseason tournament.

“That’s one thing we learned last year,” said Sutter, whose squad was eliminated by the arch-rival Bentley Generals in last spring’s provincial final. “We played step to step with those guys before we ran into injury trouble at the end of the year. Then we were down to three defencemen and we played Peter (forward Vandermeer) back there.

“You’ve got to have defencemen and they have to be key guys.”

To that end, Sutter has brought in the likes of former Olds Grizzly Chris Bailer, who graduated from the AJHL to play four seasons of NCAA hockey and spent the last three years in the Southern Professional League, and another former minor pro in Jordan Braid.

Sutter also expects to have Dan Vandermeer for a whole season after the former ECHL defenceman was in and out of the lineup last winter, and has talked to former blueliner Jason Lundmark, who has suited up for the Bentley Generals in the past and apparently hasn’t committed to either team for the 2015-16 campaign.

The former NHL coach of the year has also recruited forward Tyler Beechy, a former WHL star with Kootenay and Calgary who last season skated in Germany, and has brought in netminder Dan Dunn from the Okotoks Drillers, who have taken a one-year leave of absence from the Chinook League.

The Eagles’ 2015-16 roster will feature three Vandermeer brothers in Dan, Peter and Joe, who is the team captain and top offensive defenceman, while forwards Justin Cox, Mark Bomersback and Chad Ziegler are among the other key returnees.

Another new face who has impressed Sutter is forward Adam Johnson, a Hay Lakes product who played three seasons with Fort McMurray of the AJHL and suited up with the Camrose Augustana Vikings of the Alberta Colleges League over the past four winters.

“He’s a heck of a player and one of our top-end guys,” said Sutter.

The Eagles bench boss is entering his fourth season with the club after coaching the Generals for five years and winning the Allan Cup — the Canadian senior AAA championship — in 2009.

Since signing on as the Eagles head coach, Sutter has seen an improvement in the club each year.

“It’s a process, it takes two to three years to establish a winning mentality, to get the right people, and it’s the same thing here,” he said. “We started from scratch three years ago and we’ve just kept adding guys.

“It’s a process, it’s not something you just say you’re going to do. You have to bring in good people.”

• With the loss of the Drillers, the Chinook League will be comprised of four teams — Bentley, Innisfail, the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs and Stony Plain Eagles — this season.

The Rosetown, Sask., Redwings joined the Chinook League in June but just recently — after the schedule had been completed — had a change of heart and will stay in the Sask Valley League.