The Bentley Generals may be battered and bruised with a long stretch of post-season games behind them, but they’re eagerly embracing their next challenge.
That’s the stance productive forward Sean Robertson is taking, and he’s adamant that his teammates are on the same page.
The Generals have endured through 14 games since Feb. 18 en route to capturing the provincial senior AAA hockey crown — and 19 post-season contests in total dating back to Feb. 4 with the inclusion of the Chinook Hockey League playoffs — but still need three more wins to advance to the Allan Cup tournament April 13-18 in Steinbach, Man.
But anticipation, not fatigue, is the definitive word heading into the first game of the best-of-five Alberta/B.C. championship series — the McKenzie Cup — with the Fort St. John Flyers starting tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena.
“I think you have to relish this and be excited about what’s ahead of us,” said Robertson.
“It’s taken us 14 games to get here and I think we learned a lot about ourselves in that stretch.”
The defending provincial champs were reminded of how much intensity is required to be successful in February and March, and matching that level of desperation in April will be no problem, Robertson insisted.
“If anything we want to raise it up a bit this week, and I think we can,” he said.
“We have enough bodies that we can do that and we’ve had a week off (since beating the Stony Plain Eagles in the seventh game of the Alberta final). We’re ready to get going again and we’re definitely excited. There are butterflies in the stomach again and that’s the feeling you want at this time of the year.”
As Robertson noted, if the Generals are feeling the pain of an already arduous post-season run, those sensations of discomfort will disappear once the action heats up tonight, and actually before.
“As soon as you get out there and see a full rink and see the other team, it leaves the back of your mind for sure,” he said.
“If you think you’re injured, you are. If you think you’re OK, you probably will be. Adrenalin takes over. You look around the room and see a lot of other guys in the same boat, and no one is complaining.”
Speaking of a full rink, the Alberta senior AAA final drew overflow crowds to the Arena and the McKenzie Cup showdown is expected to generate the same level of fan interest.
The support is more than welcome, said Robertson.
“When you come out for the warm-up and you see three rows deep behind our net, that’s a good feeling,” he said.
“It’s kind of one of those feelings you probably never thought you’d experience again after you left the junior or pro ranks. The big crowds certainly make it much more enjoyable for the players. It means a lot to us and I think it means a lot to our fans in Bentley. Now we have a new home here in Red Deer and everyone is behind us.”
Robertson, a former WHL player who also played four years at the University of Calgary and then four seasons of minor pro in the United and Central leagues before joining the Generals in the fall of 2007, contributed 10 goals and 34 points in 24 Chinook League regular-season games this winter. He then racked up 10 points (3g,7a) in five CHL post-season contests and has 14 points (4-10) in 13 provincial playoff outings.
He’s one of the club’s main offensive weapons and has been especially valuable this season following the loss of offensive stalwarts Darryl Laplante, Terry Ryan, Mark Woolf and Dwayne Hay from last year’s Allan Cup runner-up squad.
The current version of the Generals may be more offensively-challenged than the ‘07-08 crew, but is also more structured with the presence of head coach Brian Sutter, Robertson suggested.
“Last year we had a bit of a makeshift coaching staff,” said Robertson, who celebrated his 31st birthday Wednesday and is employed by Big League Apparel and Sports in Calgary.
“We kind of flew by the seat of our pants with ‘Smitty’ (Kevin Smyth) and (Chad) Beagle coaching. Everyone kind of had an input in what we were doing and this year Brian has a system in place. It’s Brian’s way and he’s definitely brought us our systems and our work ethic.
“We did lose a bit of scoring and we do have to work a little harder for our goals this year, but we’ve also done a good job of keeping the puck out of our net. That’s what you need to win championships.”
The entire McKenzie Cup series will be played at the Arena, with the second and third games slated for Friday and Saturday. Fourth and fifth games, if needed, will go Sunday and Monday.
All games start at 7:30 p.m.
l The Generals will be minus the services of Joe Vandermeer tonight. The veteran defenceman will serve a one-game suspension after being assessed a checking to the head major at the conclusion of last week’s provincial AAA final Game 7 win over Stony Plain.
Contact Greg Meachem at firstname.lastname@example.org