Eagles 3 Generals 2
The Innisfail Eagles clawed their way into the Allan Cup Final.
It was far from perfect, but they were able to edge the defending Senior AAA National Champion Stoney Creek Generals of Ontario with a herculean effort.
Innisfail’s Justin Cox scored the game-winner with just 3:39 to play in the contest and his shot propelled the Eagles to a 3-2 win over Stoney Creek, earning them a spot in the final on Saturday.
“You put the year in perspective, your year is on the line, to see it go in the net it was such a relief, but at the same time you’re just happy to win as a group and it takes every single guy,” said Cox.
“I was lucky tonight, but at the same time, we don’t get there without everybody. I was so happy the team played so well.”
Stoney Creek was undefeated heading into the game and beat the Eagles 2-1 in round robin. The difference on Friday came on special teams, as the Generals were unable to cash in on nine man-advantage opportunities, while the Eagles notched three power play goals on seven chances.
“At this time of the year, you have to respect who you’re playing against, but after that, you gotta decide how the game goes,” said Eagles coach Brian Sutter.
“It’s special, I’ve been through this before and I know what this is all about…you gotta keep your emotions in check. There’s a certain way you have to think. Intensity comes and focus, they’re the best team in Canada. They beat us the other night 2-1, we didn’t score on the power play. Guess what we scored on the power play (Friday).”
Colton Hayes opened the scoring on the suddenly red hot Eagles power play. He blasted a shot in from the slot with just under four minutes to play in the first.
Shortly after their eighth power play of the second period, Nathan Pageau finally solved Eagles netminder Allen York. A Martin Lee point shot hit Pageau on the way towards the net and bounced past York to tie the game at one.
Not to be deterred, the Eagles found a way to pull ahead again late in the frame. On the power play with just two seconds left in the period, Shawn Bates blasted a rebound home to help the Eagles restore the lead.
“You gotta play a certain way. You can’t get away from that. Sometimes emotions get going crazy. You gotta slow it down and stay with the program and that’s what we did,” Sutter said.
“I don’t care if it’s the beginning of the game or the end of the game, you gotta play a certain way and you don’t get away from it. All the years I played and coached, it takes 60 minutes to win a game… we don’t give them any minutes, we make them earn it.”
Justin Donati tied the game at two for the Generals midway through the third but again the Generals stayed the course and pushed down the stretch.
Cox was flying down the wing in the third and had Bates driving to the net. He elected to shoot and ripped a laser past DeMelo with just 3:39 to play.
“I saw Batesy driving the net really hard and pull their dman back and gave me time to get set. Luckily it went in the net,” Cox said.
“Would love to tell you that’s exactly what I was doing, but it went in the net and I was pretty happy it went in.”
From there, the Eagles managed to hang on for the victory.
“The first thing I think of is character. So many guys in that room have so much heart and so much determination,” Cox added.
“Say what you want but when you love the guys in the room, you’ll do what it takes to get it done… you play for yourself but you play for the guy across from you. You play for the coaches and your family. Such a nice feeling when it comes together.”
York was also brilliant in the win, turning aside 27 shots against the highly skilled Generals and was especially important on the penalty kill. Through two periods, the Generals were unable to convert on nine power play opportunities.
“Yorkie was awesome and Barny was awesome (Thursday),” Sutter said.
“If you’ve got a good goalie, you’ve got a good chance to win every game. If you don’t have a good goalie, you don’t have a chance.”
Innisfail will now play in the Allan Cup Final on Saturday at 6 p.m.