Generals 2 Eagles 1
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And where there’s a Kevin Smyth . . . well, even better.
The former NHL player (58 games with the Hartford Whalers in the ‘90s) buried a power-play pass from Diarmuid Kelly at 11:59 of the third period Wednesday and the Bentley Generals pulled out a 2-1 win over the Stony Plain Eagles in the deciding game of the best-of-seven provincial senior AAA hockey championship.
As the teams battled through a scoreless opening period before an overflow crowd of 2,214 at the Red Deer Arena, it became evident that the game would be decided by a single goal.
“That the way it’s been all series, all season long against these guys (Eagles),” said Smyth.
“We knew we’d have to fight hard. But that’s why we play all season, to get home ice advantage so we can play the last one at home.
“Last year we were fortunate enough to win Game 7 (of the provincial final) up there (Stony Plain). It was nice to do it at home this year.”
Smyth also drew an assist on the game’s first goal, scored by Sean Robertson at 8:34 of the second period. Robertson, alone in front, buried a rebound over fallen Eagles netminder Cody Rudkowsky.
The lead help up until the dying seconds of the period when Tate Locke connected on an Eagles power play, sliding the puck past Generals netminder Scott Galenza and into the far corner with 15 ticks left on the clock.
The Generals fired 13 shots at Rudkowsky in the third period and cashed in when Smyth moved into the slot and one-timed Kelly’s corner feed past Rudkowsky.
“We played well all game. We stuck with the plan and my goal was just one of those things,” said Smyth.
“I had lots of chances tonight and I wasn’t going to miss that one. It was just a great play. He (Kelly) has been great all series and all season. The pass was right on my tape. I didn’t think too much, I just shot it and it went in.”
While he displayed a sense of relief, Generals head coach Brian Sutter insisted the contest didn’t have to go down to the wire, with Rudkowsky on the bench in favour of a sixth attacker.
“It wasn’t easy but we didn’t make it easy on ourselves, either,” said Sutter, whose team held a 30-20 overall advantage in shots. “We had a number of chances to put the game away over and over again. We’re a team that makes it hard on ourselves. We really have to earn things.
“But I’m proud of the guys because they stayed with it. When you get opportunities and you don’t score, it’s easy to hang your head. But as a coach you have to keep pushing in those situations, otherwise they do hang their heads.”
Sutter wasn’t surprised that it was Smyth who pulled the trigger on the winner.
“Your best players have to be your hardest workers,” said the Bentley bench boss. “He had four or five chances to score tonight and that one went in. He also made a great play on our first goal.
“It’s easy to say that (the winner) was a great goal, but you’re paid to be good and you’re supposed to be good. The thing is we missed a lot of chances tonight and that’s why it made for such an intense game, when it shouldn’t have been.”
Of course, Rudkowsky had something to do with the Eagles not only sticking around Wednesday, but through the entire series. Rudkowsky faced 320 shots over the seven-game set and was named series MVP.
“He was good. In the playoffs your goaltender has to be your best player and their goaltender was their best player,” said Sutter.
“I have a lot of respect for their team and their coaches . . . the whole organization,” he added.
Next up for the Generals are the Fort St. John Flyers, who will represent B.C. in the best-of-five McKenzie Cup series starting next Thursday at the Arena. The winner will represent the Pacific Region in the Allan Cup tournament April 13-18 at Steinbach, Man.
“It just keeps going on and on,” said Sutter, whose club has played a whopping 19 post-season games. “Our guys have a bunch of aches and pains. We used 32 players in this series, which tells you how hard you have to play.”
The entire McKenzie Cup series will be staged at the Arena, a clear advantage for the Generals.
“It’s kind of neat to get the support we’re getting here,” said Sutter. “This is a neat building to play in and Central Alberta is a great place, a special place with some great hockey fans.”
Contact Greg Meachem at firstname.lastname@example.org