It was, quite simply, the Bentley Generals’ turn to hoist the Allan Cup.
After losing in a quarter-final, a semifinal and last year the championship final in their previous appearances in the national senior AAA hockey showcase tournament, the Generals were probably overdue.
Sure enough, former Red Deer Rebels’ forward Diarmuid Kelly scored at 5:21 of the second overtime period Saturday to lift the Alberta/B.C. champs to a 4-3 win over the South East Prairie Thunder in the Allan Cup final in Steinbach, Man.
“It was one for the ages, it was really something,” Generals general manager Jeff McInnis said Sunday, in reference to the championship game viewed by 1,450 fans at the T.G. Smith Centre and a national television audience on TSN 2.
Kelly buried his own rebound after Thunder netminder Brent Zelenewich had stopped Kelly’s initial shot following a centering pass from Kurt Bensmiller.
“It felt great,” Kelly told the Winnipeg Sun. “I haven’t scored a goal in a while so it felt really good. I was lucky to get it. I kept chopping away at it and finally got it. I’ve been to three Allan Cups and this is my first (championship). It feels unbelievable right now.”
Zelenewich, a Winnipeg investment banker who was named tournament MVP and all-star goaltender, made his 56h save of the day on Kelly’s first shot, but couldn’t stop the second chance.
“I knew he (Bensmiller) was going to pass it out in front,” said Zelenewich. “I just went paddle down and it hit my chest and unfortunately, it went off my chest up in the air. He got a second bat at it and knocked it into an empty net.”
The Manitoba champion Prairie Thunder led 1-0 after one period on a goal by Ryan Smith, but the teams were tied 2-2 after 40 minutes with the Generals getting two goals from Ryan Manitowich and Tim Skarperud countering for South East.
Matt Ulwelling notched the Prairie Thunder’s third power-play marker of the contest just 19 seconds into the third period, and when Generals forward Jeremy Stasiuk was assessed a double high-sticking penalty seven minutes later, the situation looked grim for Bentley. However, Generals captain Kent Beagle created a turnover at the South East blue-line and beat Zelenewich through the five-hole on a short-handed breakaway.
From there, the teams battled through the final 12 minutes of regulation time and a complete 10-minute sudden-death frame before Kelly pulled the trigger in the second extra session.
“It shows you have to pay a price to win,” Generals head coach Brian Sutter told the Sun. “We beat a good team and that makes it even better.”
“We paid our dues,” said McInnis, “Experience is such a great teacher. “When we got to this tournament last year I analyzed opposition rosters and really tried to scout the other teams, but I learned that you don’t have to worry about the other teams, just yourself.
“We did that this time and it was obviously the right way to go because we were so polished. We finally won six (games) in a row (including three straight over the Fort St. John Flyers in the McKenzie Cup) to finish this year and as everyone in Central Alberta knows we were having a case of ‘win one, lose one’ for quite some time. We got so much hungrier at this tournament, and we needed that.”
Indeed, the Generals knocked off the host Steinbach North Stars 5-2 in their opening Allan Cup game and then steamrolled the Thunder Bay Twins twice to reach the final.
This season’s version of the Generals might have lacked the offensive firepower of the 2007-08 squad, but was stronger on defence and in another all-important department.
“We had a much grittier team this year, we emulated our head coach,” said McInnis. “What a gritty team. Last year we did not have this toughness and this depth. This year we were so strong that way.”
l Four members of the Generals — defencemen Joe Vandermeer and Don Morrison and forwards Bensmiller and Kevin Smyth — were named to the Allan Cup tournament all-star team.
Contact Greg Meachem at firstname.lastname@example.org