BENTLEY — The ‘Push Through for Two’ is well underway.
With the ‘Run to One’ now just a pleasant memory, the Bentley Generals are determined to add a second consecutive Allan Cup championship to their resumé.
“It’s funny, three-quarters of the way through playoffs last year everyone was saying ‘let’s win this thing so we can retire’. But now we got a taste of it and we want to do it again,” Generals captain Kent Beagle said Friday, following his club’s 7-0 win over the Innisfail Eagles that improved Bentley’s Chinook Hockey League leading record to 10-1-0-0.
Yes indeed, the Generals are once again the cream of the CHL, one of the country’s toughest senior loops with the likes of the Stony Plain Eagles, Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs and Lloydminster Border Kings, all of whom have been to the Allan Cup tournament. Stony Plain and the Chiefs trail Bentley by three and six points, with one and two games in hand, respectively.
“The whole league has upgraded this year. Innisfail has a better team, Rocky (West Central Alberta) has a better team. Fort Saskatchewan is a top-end club, Lloydminster is what they are and you know Stony is always going to be there,” said Generals head coach Brian Sutter. “We have our hands full all of the time.”
It’s the usual cast of suspects who are leading the Gens. Curtis Austring is the league’s top scorer with 11 goals and 22 points, Sean Robertson (7-13-20) and Diarmuid Kelly (8-10-18) are up there as well and the likes of puck-movers Joe Vandermeer, Don Morrison and Erik Lodge are anchoring the back end.
Toss in the return of former NHL forward Darryl LaPlante, who has 14 points (6-8) in just six games after taking last season off, Tyler Haarstad (5-8-13) and Kevin Smyth (5-6-11 in seven games), and it’s déja vu all over again. And the addition of forward John Hobson, formerly of the Chiefs, and goaltenders Jordan Alford and Darryl Ruff, formerly of the Rocky Rams, hasn’t hurt.
“We have a few new guys, but the work ethic, the attitude and the mentality haven’t changed,” said Sutter. “You have to be good every night and find new ways to challenge yourself. Guys like ‘Lappy’ (LaPlante) make it a lot easier and having ‘Derms’ (Kelly) the whole year has made a difference. It’s just a matter of those guys staying healthy.”
Beagle admitted that it’s basically more of the same this season.
“I think that we’ve filled in a few holes, spots where we were lacking a bit last year,” he said. “We have a little more scoring punch with LaPlante back and the addition of Hobson, and we have some different line combinations that are working for us.
“But we have the same philosophy as last year and in years past. With Brian as coach, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against — it’s balls to the wall every night. There’s no letting off that gas and that’s the way we’re going to roll.”
The Generals have carded the Bensmiller brothers — forward Kurt and defenceman Chance — for the stretch run and provincial playoffs, and hope to see more of veteran forward Chris Martini in the New Year. In other words, most of the same names that adorn the most recent plaque on the Allan Cup should be around for another run, and when you’re the defending national senior champions, that’s not a bad thing.
“It’s not, but it’s twice as hard to defend it,” said Sutter. “So we continue to try and bear down on the little things. We play like a pro team. We don’t beat ourselves and we get better as the game goes on. That’s what we try to do.
“Last season we had to go right to the wall to win everything. Home-ice advantage was really important to us so it’s vital that we pick up all the points we can get right now.”
The addition of Ruff and Alford, a Red Deer native and former U.S. college (RPI) stopper who possesses a shiny 1.66 goals-against average and .941 save percentage, and the presence of veteran Scott Galenza (1.64 GAA and .933 save percentage with two shutouts) gives the Generals all-important depth between the pipes.
“The goalies might not like that there’s three of them, but we ended up with one goalie (Galenza) last season and we can’t get caught like that again,” said Sutter.
“It’s great that we have three goalies who can challenge each other and are all capable of being a No. 1 with any team in this league,” added Beagle. “But the main thing is staying prepared. With everyone gunning for us every game we have to be on our toes.”