The definition of battle: A sustained fight between large, organized armed forces.
If that exact meaning was accompanied with a photograph, a good choice would be an image from Saturday evening’s clash between the Bentley Generals and Innisfail Eagles at the Red Deer Arena.
The teams engaged in a type of on-ice warfare that displayed the intensity of the rivalry that exists between them. Bodies were flying and scoring chances were few, and in the end the Generals — with Kyle Sheen scoring twice — came away with a 3-0 victory before roughly 1,200 fans to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Alberta senior AAA hockey championship series.
“That’s what we expected . . . tight checking, physical and not of lot of scoring opportunities,” said Bentley head coach Ryan Tobler. “We expected just that style — a tight game — and that’s what we saw.”
Defenceman Shawn Germain scored the only goal the Generals would need, beating Eagles netminder Jonathan Larose with a wrist shot from the faceoff circle just past the midway point of the opening period.
The Generals were full credit for their 1-0 lead after 20 minutes, as Larose faced 13 shots as opposed to four for Bentley stopper Travis Yonkman.
“I was proud of the guys to a man for the way they came out. We got everyone into it early and that was the key,” said Tobler.
Sheen notched what proved to be an insurance marker 4:45 into the middle frame, taking advantage of a turnover deep in the Innisfail end and ripping a shot past Larose from low in the circle, then rounded out the scoring in the third period, going hard to net and cashing a rebound.
His second tally was a likely preview of future goals in the series.
“It’s going to be a grind and it’s going to be a war,” said Sheen. “We knew that coming in. They (Eagles) play hard and we have to match their work ethic. I think we did that tonight and that was our edge.”
While the Generals fired 30 shots at Larose, Yonkman faced only 20, although a few were high quality.
“The last two weeks we’ve been really focused on our defence and picking up sticks and players in front of the net,” said Sheen. “We’ve had just really, good, hard battles in practice and we’ve focused on working in the trenches, and it showed tonight.
“It’s what it’s going to be the whole series. You’re not going to see blowout games and pretty plays and pretty goals. It’s going to be grinding, garbage goals that go in.”
Tobler wasn’t surprised that his team was able to limit the Eagles’ scoring chances.
“Our differential (goals for and against) was pretty good this year. We took pride in that all year,” he said. “If we have to grind teams down and win games 1-0 or 2-1, we’ll do that. We’d rather play the right way than win 8-0 playing river hockey.”
Eagles head coach Brian Sutter bemoaned the defensive turnovers that hurt his club, pointing to mistakes on all three goals.
“On the scoresheet I think they have two assists on the first goal,” said Sutter. “Well, we gave the puck away. It was unassisted.
“On the second goal we made a mistake, it was unassisted. On the third goal, we made a mistake, they had one assist. So, three goals, two assists. It tells you that no matter how ugly you play, you can’t make mistakes at crucial times.
“It wasn’t like our goalie had to stand on his head. Neither did their goalie. Neither guy had an abundance of work, but we turned the puck over too many times.”
The Eagles were assessed eight of 15 minor penalties by referees Jared Greenberg and Dave Webster, who could have easily called another half dozen infractions.
“It was kind of a dirty, ugly, choppy game, but you give them (Generals) credit,” said Sutter. “Every game we’ve played against them this season has been like that.”
Game 2 is slated for Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Innisfail Arena.
“They play well in Innisfail and that’s where we go next,” said Tobler. “We’ll take this week to reassess and get ready. We expect another good battle Friday.”
Sutter will be looking for a better effort from his club on home ice.
“We got the legs going in the last half of the game tonight. We did some good things but we can be a lot better,” he said. “That was nowhere near how we’re capable of playing.”
Game 3 of the series will be played Saturday in Red Deer, with an 8 p.m. start.