By JOSH ALDRICH
Generals 5 Eagles 4 (2OT)
It took almost four hours, but the Bentley Generals are one game away from clinching the provincial senior AAA title.
Third-year Generals forward Kyle Sheen snapped home the Game 3 winner 12:19 into the second overtime period against the Innisfail Eagles Saturday at the Red Deer Arena to give Bentley a 5-4 win and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Alberta final.
It was Sheen’s second goal of the game and third point, while linemate Randall Gelech had two goals and two assists.
Jason Lundmark scored the other Bentley and goalie Travis Yonkman had an up-and-down night while stopping 45 shots.
Andrew Boute, Travis Dunstall, Wyatt Hamilton and Michael Kneeland replied for Innisfail, while Jonathan LaRose made 47 saves.
All the Generals care about, however, is that one more win puts them into the Alberta/B.C. final against the Powell River Regals with an Allan Cup bid on the line. Game 4 of the Alberta final goes Friday in Innisfail at 8:30 p.m.
“It’s such a huge momentum swing in the series,” said Generals head coach Ryan Tobler.
“The immediate reaction right after is just excitement and exhilaration, then just exhaustion. You’re just so happy it’s hard to find words. But there’s no quit over there, and we know that. We expect another gutsy game like that from them on Friday.”
The way the game was going — with both goalies playing lights out in overtime — it felt like the end result might not come until after midnight. It got close, coming up about 15 minutes short after an 8 p.m. start.
With a face-off to the left of LaRose, the Generals finally broke the deadlock off a set play.
They lined up with Sheen off-set on the draw on the left side of the circle, behind a couple of blockers, and Gelech won the draw right back to him.
He made no mistake, snapping the shot high glove side.
“We’ve worked on that play all year . . . and we hadn’t used it yet in this series,” said Sheen.
“They do a good job of standing in front of the net and trying to block shots, and fortunately I think they were just in the way of the goaltender and he couldn’t see it and I was lucky enough just to get the shot through and have it go in.”
For the Eagles, the game has the potential to be damning, especially after out-playing the Generals five-on-five for the entire game. It was their discipline that killed them, as the Generals were deadly on the power play.
“There was nothing wrong with how we played at all,” said Eagles head coach Brian Sutter. “You take bad penalties and they always score on them and we took a couple of those tonight.”
The Generals needed a two-man-advantage to open the scoring. With Christopher Neurauter off for roughing and Darrin Roback serving two minutes for high-sticking, Sheen took just 22 seconds to score, tipping a Connor Shields point shot past LaRose at 17:10 of the first period.
Bentley made it 2-0 just 11 seconds after the second penalty expired, as Sheen found Gelech streaking in and hit him with a cross-ice pass, which he chipped past LaRose into an open cage.
But Innisfail came out hard in the second period.
Boute finally beat Yonkman — tipping home a one-time point shot by Mike Sullivan as he crashed the net — 18 seconds into the frame.
The Eagles tied it up at 4:36, as Yonkman could not squeeze a Pete Vandermeer drive and Dunstall poked home the loose puck.
The Generals retook the lead on another power play at 7:14, as Lundmark finished off a pretty passing play with Gelech and Shields, ripping a wrist shot top corner over LaRose’s blocker.
Then came a nightmare of a goal for Yonkman at 9:04, as Hamilton drifted a shot in from centre ice. The Bentley goalie dropped to play the puck with his glove, but it skipped in front of him and hopped over his shoulder and into the net.
But his team bailed him out at 14:43, as a rebound off the post went right to Gelech and he one-timed it past LaRose to give Bentley a 4-3 lead after two periods.
The third stanza was more calm, but a third questionable goal on Yonkman tied the contest 3:11 in, as Boute ripped a shot on net during a two-on-one rush. Yonkman kicked out a big rebound to Kneeland who had a gaping cage to put the puck in.
But Yonkman was a rock in overtime, particularly on a penalty kill for too many men on the ice 58 seconds into the first extra period.
“He stole us that hockey game,” said Tobler. “He battled back from a tough bounce and that’s just mentally strong — he’s been great for us this year.”
The Generals know winning the fourth game will be even more difficult than the double-overtime marathon.
“It isn’t going to be easy, as you saw tonight; they had a lot of push back,” said Sheen. “We’re going to expect their best, they’re going to be playing desperate hockey. They’re not going to roll over and give up, we know that.”
Sutter is not panicking. He knows they are still in the series and likely should have won Saturday night, now they are just focused on winning one game.
“We know how we have to play . . . and tonight is how we are capable of playing,” he said. “You can be disappointed, but you’ve got to be disappointed in the right way. Keep your focus and know how you’ve got to play.”