The Lacombe Generals finished atop the Allan Cup Hockey West standings by the slimmest of margins.
After a deadlock through 18 games with the Rosetown Red Wings and a 3-3 tie in the season series, the top spot was determined through head-to-head goals for. By a sliver, the Generals 22 goals for beat out the Red Wings 20.
That set up a first-round, best-of-five series with the fourth place Stony Plain Eagles for the Generals, while the Red Wings will battle with the Innisfail Eagles.
“I think the parity in the league is evident with the subtraction of Fort Saskatchewan,” said Generals GM Jeff McInnis.
“I fear all opposition, some years you don’t as much as others, this is a year we fear all opposition. Makes for exciting hockey.”
Lacombe and Stony Plain split the six-game season series this year, with the Generals outscoring them 25-15. Lacombe earned a 5-3 win in the most recent meeting on Feb. 1. Stony Plain won 4-3 twice earlier this season. Lacombe knocked Stony Plain off 8-2 in December and 6-2. The Generals had to forfeit a game on Jan. 13 against the Eagles.
“It’s been probably one of the most difficult seasons we’ve had,” added McInnis, whose team had a 10-6-0-2 record this year.
“There were moves that didn’t work because of occupation and a handful of our men changed to swift work. It wasn’t by design we had these roster problems. We have great men that we want there all the time, but we only get them sometimes. That provided a rollercoaster of emotions.”
The best-of-five first round playoff series starts Saturday night in Lacombe with puck drop at 8 p.m before it shifts to Stony Plain on Feb. 13. Game 3 is Feb. 15 in Lacombe at 8 p.m.
Innisfail meanwhile, will do battle with the pesky Red Wings, who led the ACHW standings for much of the regular season. In six meetings, those two teams were also even at three wins apiece. Innisfail won the last two games 5-2 and shut them out 3-0 on Jan. 27.
Innisfail had the top scorer this season in the ACHW, as Shawn Bates recorded 15 goals and nine assists in 24 games. Red Wings forward Brett Baltus was third in the league with 11 goals and nine assists.
Rosetown will host Innisfail for Games 1 and 2 this weekend. The Eagles will host Game 3 in Innisfail on Feb. 16 7:30 p.m. and Game 4 if necessary on Feb. 17 at 5 p.m.