If it’s downright definite that defence wins championships, then the Bentley Generals are in good shape heading into the 2009 Allan Cup tournament.
Two years ago, a lack of blue-line depth proved costly to the Generals in the national senior AAA hockey championship at Stony Plain, where the team was 2-0 in pool play before dropping an overtime semifinal to the Whitby Dunlops of Ontario.
This year, the Generals are pretty much stacked on the back end, thanks primarily to the mid-season additions of Dion Darling, Darren Deschamps, Brett Thurston, Erik Lodge and defenceman/forward Diarmuid Kelly, plus the recent listing of Chance Bensmiller of Dewberry, who appeared in one of the four McKenzie Cup games last week.
“At Christmas we looked at our team and we knew we had to upgrade. We were concerned because some of our defencemen weren’t available (mainly for employment reasons) for every game,” said Bentley bench boss Brian Sutter, who also coached the 2006-07 squad before handling similar duties with the Red Deer Rebels in ‘07-08.
“With the guys we’ve added, I think we’re much deeper on defence than we were two years ago and the (Allan Cup runner-up) team was last year. We have seven healthy defencemen right now and we have 11 on paper. You need a solid defence, and it’s interesting because in the last series (a 3-1 McKenzie Cup win over Fort St. John) some guys were not happy about not playing every night, but when you’re playing possibly five games in five nights it’s necessary to give certain guys a break. Some guys historically have problems with (playing) two games in two nights, let alone three.
“Overall, I think we’re a much deeper team on the back end and a much quicker team.”
The addition of goaltender Cody Rudkowsky, who posted a 2-1 record in the McKenzie Cup, from the Stony Plain Eagles has boosted Bentley’s depth, as has the mid-season insertions of forwards Kurt Bensmiller, Jeremy Stasiuk and Dustin Claffey.
The Generals also have loads of big-game experience in regards to the players who appeared in each of the last two Allan Cup tournaments — losing to host Brantford in the 2008 final — and some of the additions over the past two years have major junior (Deschamps and Kelly have Memorial Cup rings) and pro backgrounds.
“Most of the guys have been there and I think and I hope they realize that just saying what it takes isn’t enough. You have to know what it takes to make a difference, and I think they do,” said Sutter.
“We as coaches (including assistant Jason Lenz) have really tried to keep them focused right from Day 1. Our goal has always been to win the last game we play this year, and that’s where we’re bound and determined.
“There’s a lot of things that go into a championship team and a lot has to do with mental makeup. When you think you’re ready, you’re probably not. And when you think you’ve given enough, you never have. You have to set a high standard for yourself and you have to expect a lot from yourself. We’ve come this far so why not keep it going the rest of the way? I had eight players call me today and every one of them said we pushed them as coaches and they’re understanding now that they can give a little more and that they have to expect more from themselves.”
The Generals will fly to Winnipeg Sunday and will meet the host Steinbach North Stars in their first game Tuesday at 7 p.m. (MDT). Bentley is in Division 2 of the six-team tournament and will take on the Thunder Bay Twins Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Division 1 teams are the Ontario Major League champion Dundas Real McCoys, the Lloydminster Border Kings and the Southeast Prairie Thunder of Manitoba. The Border Kings have picked up former Red Deer Rebels defenceman Regan Darby and goaltender Kelly Guard, who won a Memorial Cup with Kelowna in 2004, while the North Stars feature the likes of Theoren Fleury and former WHL notables Chris Nielsen, Greg Hawgood, Mark Dutiaume and Dorian Anneck. Hawgood, in fact, played nearly 500 games in the NHL.