Generals 3 Flyers 2
Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the year for the Bentley Generals.
The Generals qualified for the Allan Cup tournament for a third successive year Sunday with a 3-2 win over the Fort St. John Flyers before roughly 2,000 fans at the Red Deer Arena. The hard-earned victory in the fourth game of the best-of-five McKenzie Cup series — the Alberta/B.C. senior AAA hockey final — earned the Bentley squad a berth in the national championship tournament April 13-18 in Steinbach, Man.
“This is my fourth trip to the Allan Cup and I’ve played in a quarter-final, a semifinal and last spring the final without winning it,” said Generals captain Kent Beagle. “This is the year that we’re bringing that cup home.”
After losing to Bentley in the inter-provincial showdown each of the past two years, the Flyers were also intent on getting to the Allan Cup this spring, turning in a spirited effort against a clearly superior club, a team that dominated Sunday’s contest but faced a red-hot goaltender in Troy Hunt, who turned away 44 shots.
“Fort St. John, they’re a tough team to play against,” said Beagle. “But it’s a team we like to play because they’re going to keep us honest every time.”
The Generals started fast Sunday, striking just 25 seconds in when Kevin Smyth blew a rebound of a Joe Vandermeer point shot past Hunt for his fourth goal of the series. The host team outshot the Flyers 17-6 in the opening frame and took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission after getting a late breakaway goal from Ryan Manitowich following a long stretch pass from Vandermeer.
Forward Kurt Bensmiller, who was named McKenzie Cup MVP, notched the eventual winner at 6:41 of the second period, beating Hunt with a backhand during a Bentley power play. It was his third goal and his series-leading seventh point.
The Flyers rebounded nicely, however, cutting the deficit to two on Rod Stevens’ second marker of the series just 17 seconds later, and pulling to within one at 14:15 courtesy of a power-play goal from Ian Munro.
The Generals carried the play through most of the scoreless final frame, but Hunt stood his ground with a series of sensational stops. The Flyers, meanwhile, created a handful of chances down the stretch but Cody Rudkowsky was equally as sharp in the Bentley net.
“Rudkowsky is an incredible goaltender,” said Beagle, in reference to the pick-up from the Stony Plain Eagles, who made 24 saves including an incredible stop on Kip Noble in the second period when the netminder appeared to be down and out. “He sticks with it all the time, we know that from playing against him this year. He’s a guy we can rely on.”
Generals head coach Brian Sutter praisied his troops for completing the long and difficult journey to the Allan Cup, an 18-game grind that included two best-of-seven Alberta playoff series that went down to the wire.
“We were fortunate that we played Stony Plain (in the provincial final), because they’re a lot like this team (Flyers),” said Sutter. “Fort Saskatchewan (Bentley’s provincial semifinal opponent) is the same and (quarter-finalist) River Cree took you to the wall every shift. So we were used to playing these kind of games.
“It’s special when you beat a good team and these guys should be proud of themselves. It’s physically and mentally draining to go through something like this. There’s no team in Canada that has to go through what we go through to get to the Allan Cup.”
The Flyers, who posted a 6-3 win in Game 2 Friday before falling 3-1 24 hours later, refused to quit even as the final seconds ticked off Sunday.
“We turned on the gas at the end because there was no tomorrow for us, but we needed to do that earlier,” said coach Adam Brash. “We had to stay out of the penalty box and find that fire in the belly earlier on in the series. Bentley is solid on the back end, but we found a way to get to them in Game 2 by getting smart dumps and using our speed to forecheck and break them down. But we just didn’t execute properly tonight, and that was the difference.”
In the end, the better team prevailed.
“Like I told the guys, we have a lot of skill on this team and if they play hard they control their own destiny,” said Sutter.
Contact Greg Meachem at email@example.com