The Bentley Generals had been to the Allan Cup tournament often enough to know fully well that the competition at the highest level of senior AAA hockey would be stiff.
And yet, perhaps they weren’t fully prepared for this year’s event, which offered up a degree of difficulty that general manager Jeff McInnis had not previously experienced.
“This year was harder. I suspected that going in and maybe that was so it would temper the depression when we lost,” McInnis said Tuesday, three days after the conclusion of the 2014 Allan Cup tournament at Dundas, Ont., where the host Real McCoys captured the national championship with a 3-2 overtime conquest of the Clarenville, Nfld., Caribous.
“There were no weaklings this year,” McInnis continued. “I think we were the weakling, almost . . . us and (the) Brantford (Blast). And when you look at that you go ‘Holy cow, those are good teams’.”
The Generals were the defending Allan Cup champions after winning in Red Deer last year, and the Ontario champion Blast won in 2008 and have been contenders on an almost annual basis. And yet, neither was good enough to seriously threaten this time around.
“There was a lot of parity and yet you can’t say almost any team could have won because the two teams in the final were the two best there,” said McInnis. “But we were close, we weren’t that far off.
“Certainly Clarenville and their affiliates made for tough competition for anyone to beat, so I was happy to see the hosts win.”
The Generals GM was referring to the fact the Atlantic reps — as the only AAA club from the region — were able to use players from all five opposing teams in the Newfoundland Senior League.
“Just one team in the league declares triple A status, and they do it a year ahead, so all the good affiliates go with that team,” said McInnis. “They play in somewhat of a vacuum, which is perfect for them. They have a system in Newfoundland that has to be somewhat tempered.”
The Generals posted a 1-3 record at Dundas, losing both of their pool games — 6-2 to the Real McCoys and 3-1 to the Southeast Prairie Lightning of Manitoba — before defeating Brantford 3-2 in a quarter-final and falling 5-1 to Clarenville in semifinal action.
“It was a bit deflating when we lost the second game because we actually played very well,” said McInnis. “We really controlled the play. (Forward) Kyle Bailey said to me “I think I won every shift, I left the ice thinking we dominated that shift’.
“And they did, and yet the Southeast team got about six or seven scoring chances and scored three goals. They were one-timers and nice goals and all, but the possession time was ours.”
The Generals regrouped to get past the Blast and were feeling good about themselves when they led the Caribous 1-0 after one period of the semifinal.
“We had a terrific first period against Clarenville and the thinking was ‘OK, now we’re really rolling’,” said McInnis.
But the 2013 Allan Cup runners-up fired four unanswered second-period goals and the Generals’ season was all but over.
“The wheels came off in the second and now we had to play run-and-gun to get back into the game and we aren’t that type of team,” said McInnis.
Bentley’s offence was of the pop-gun variety through most of the tournament, sniping a total of seven goals,
“We weren’t able to score at the clip we probably needed and we probably needed a couple more saves to keep us in it with the big gunners we faced,” said McInnis.
“It was just tough this year. The line between winning and losing in that tournament is fine, but this year it was even finer.”
The Generals GM is already looking ahead to the 2014-15 season and the likelihood of adding new faces.
“I was talking to players from my hotel room during the Allan Cup. I was recruiting all winter,” he said. “The recruiting never ends, there’s not a slow period.
“We absolutely want to upgrade for next season. We want to be better.”