The Bentley Generals believe they are a deeper and better team than they were last season.
They may have to be to get past the defending Allan Cup champion Fort St. John Flyers, who they host in the best-of-five McKenzie Cup championships, beginning Thursday at the Red Deer Arena.
The Flyers come in with a similar roster to last season when they beat the Generals 4-1 in the Allan Cup final in the northern B.C. community.
“They have a lot of the same guys, so we know they’ll be tough,” said Generals manager Jeff McInnis.
“We know they have two top scoring lines and all four of their lines will be physical. In fact they play a physical style as a team.
“They also have strong goaltending in Clayton Pool, who was there last season, so we don’t see any holes in their roster. This is the fifth time we’ve faced them in the McKenzie Cup and it’s developed into a very good rivalry.
“They have a wonderful organization that’s grown into a legitimate 3A program over the years. We’ll have to be at our best to beat them”
And that’s fine with the Generals, says McInnis.
“You want a tough series and you want to have to play 100 per cent to advance,” he said.
The Generals, who have dominated the Chinook Hockey League the last three seasons, amassing a 61-3 record, may have been a bit overconfident heading into last year’s national final, according to McInnis.
“A bit of a hangover following 2009, but I’m sure we’re not overconfident this year. We’re blessed with a wonderful coaching staff that will keep the guys heads from swelling.”
Brian Sutter is back at the head coach and is assisted by Brian Stephenson and Kent Beagle.
The Generals should be close to 100 per cent healthy with the return of forwards Sean Robertson and possibly Kevin Smyth.
Robertson sat out most of the Fort Saskatchewan series resting a leg injury while Smyth is reported to have a shoulder injury.
“Sean could have played last series, and nothing against Fort Saskatchewan, but we felt we could win without him and have him healthy for this series,” explained McInnis. “As for Kevin I don’t know. I know Kevin wants to play, but it’s between him and the head coach.”
The Generals are deeper up front this season, but even more so on the defence with the addition of Brandon Smith, who played with Portland of the WHL and in the American Hockey League and Europe, and Chris Sotiropoulos, who played at the U of Calgary and in the WHL.
Scott Galenza will start in goal with Sylvan Lake’s Jordan Ramstead as the backup.
The Flyers come in led by Rod and Chris Stevens, Kimbi Daniels and Mike Stutzel up front.
Rod Stevens was the MVP in last year’s Allan Cup while Daniels is a former member of the Philadephia Flyers and Stutzel played with the Phoenix Coyotes.
“They are just some of their strong forwards and defencemen,” said McInnis.
The series won’t have any days off running Thursday through Monday, if necessary, with all games at 7 p.m.