The Innisfail Eagles are one game away from what could be a storybook ending to their first appearance at Allan Cup.
On Friday night, they became the first team to move on to the 2019 Viking Projects Allan Cup final in Lacombe, after defeating the reigning Stoney Creek Generals 3-2 in the semifinals.
As it was in the quarter-finals, one of their main difference makers in their win over Stoney Creek was their special teams.
“Tonight we had to persevere,” said Eagles Head Coach Brian Sutter. “We killed a pile of penalties – the penalties were 10-2 at one point in the game. That’s incredible and we killed them. We did our job.”
Neither team was able to open the scoring at regular strength in the first, but with under four minutes left to play in the second, Colton Hayes found a gap through traffic and beat Stoney Creek goaltender Ryan DeMelo blocker side while Jarrett Konkle was in the box.
In the second, the teams were more evenly matched in terms of possession, but with 2:23 left to play, General Nathan Pageau found a whole through traffic and tied the game at one. The Eagles persevered – as Sutter said – and with just 2.1 seconds left in the frame, they responded once again with the man advantage as Shawn Bates beat DeMelo once again on his right-hand side.
Midway through the third period, the Generals battled back and tied the game again as Justin Donati chipped a puck past Eagle netminder Allen York. Again, the Eagles didn’t let the game get away from them, and with 3:39 left int he game, it paid off as Justin Cox would fire the game-winning goal past DeMelo and punch the Eagles ticket to the final.
“I’ve been through this before, I know what it’s all about,” said Sutter. “You’ve got to keep your emotions in check. There’s a certain way you gotta think – Intensity comes and focus and baring down… Sometimes guys emotions get crazy, but you’ve got to slow it down, stay with the program and that’s what we did.”
He also gave credit to York, who stopped 27 shots on the night – including many on the penalty kill. DeMelo, meanwhile, had 37 saves for Stoney Creek.
Now the Eagles await the winner of the other semifinal between the Lacombe Generals and Rosetown Redwings, who do battle at 8 p.m.
“You know what the neat thing is? There’s three teams left and they’re all from our league,” he said. “That’s pretty special…You know it’s a tough league. Every night it’s world war three…I’ve got a lot of respect for the people that are still left to play.
“Nothing in life’s easy. Sports are special. If you want to win the last game, you have to expect it to be tough and you have to earn it.”
The final will be played at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex. The game will be broadcast live in the Molson Canadian Hockey House by TSN, however, TSN will not air the final live as they will be airing a replay of the 2019 Masters instead.