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Red Deer Rustlers, Lacombe Generals move on to NCHL semi-finals

Both could move on to the finals
The Red Deer Senior AA Rustlers will play in the semi-finals beginning this weekend in the NCHL playoffs. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

A pair of local senior AA hockey teams have a chance to secure a spot in the finals of the North Central Hockey League (NCHL).

The Lacombe Generals and the Red Deer Rustlers will each face off with different teams in the semi-finals for a potential head-to-head matchup in the Vanburg Cup Finals.

The Generals were the Presidents Cup champions for having the best record of the regular season (11-2-0-1) and earned a bye to the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, the Rustlers finished in fifth place but swept the Westlock Warriors 3-0 in a best-of-five series in the first round. The top six out of seven teams in the NCHL make the playoffs.

The Generals begin a best-of-seven series on Saturday at home at 7:45 p.m. against the sixth-place Devon Barons and the Rustlers faceoff with the Camrose Crush at 8 p.m. on the road.

General manager of the Generals Jared Williams said his team is built for the playoffs.

“We start in September thinking about playoffs,” he said. “This team is one could see going all the way and winning that title but we’ve got to prove it to ourselves.

“It’s one of those things that doesn’t get handed to anyone. We’ve got the chance so we’ve just got to go out and take it.”

Lacombe played Devon twice during the regular season winning 9-0 in October and pulling out a close 3-2 victory in November. The Generals like their chances against any team in the league.

“We’ve got speed we’ve got structure. We try to focus on our systems being crisp and tight-knit. We know this will give us a chance in most games,” he said.

The Rams are built around fast and big players, some of who like to score and some who know keeping the puck out of their net is the main goal.

Forward Cam Maclise led the scoring race in Lacome with 23 points (11 goals and 12 assists) and right behind him is Bryce Wilson with 21 points (10 goals and 11 assists). In net, goaltender Mackenzie Engel has started all but two games for the Generals posting a 3.17 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

“When we’re playing our roles we’re very deep because we’ve got guys that can do it right down to every man on the roster,” he said.

President of the Rustlers Michael Dempster said this season has had plenty of ups and downs but making sure the team was on an upswing come playoff time was critical.

They did just that sweeping through the first round but their focus now moves to the defending champion Camrose Crush.

“Camrose is a great team,” Dempster said. “They’ve proven that year after year… They’ve won quite a few championships before they moved to Camrose last year.

“They’re a pretty offensive powerhouse of a team so we’ll definitely have our hands full and we’re excited for the challenge.”

Since the franchise was created they’ve made it to the semi-finals including a finals berth in 2020 but were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really looking forward to the chance to get back there. Obviously, there’s a seven-game series ahead of us against a really good team,” he said.

“We’ve got to handle that before we get looking ahead but as an organization that’s the goal every year. We want to win… As a newer organization we haven’t got to the top of the mountain and that’s something we’re really looking forward to.”

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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