The Lacombe Generals started the postseason the way they ended the regular season: on top.
The “Army” handed the Stony Plain Eagles a 4-3 loss Saturday night in front of the hometown crowd at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex to take an early 1-0 Allan Cup Hockey West semifinal lead over their northern Alberta rivals.
The difference, according to Generals Head Coach Sean Robertson, was simplicity and a full game effort.
“It’s playoff hockey…it’s a long game and you’ve got to play right to the end,” he said. “It was very important for us to get that win – I thought we played well.”
The Generals opened the scoring late in the first period with Steven Phee slipping a puck past Eagle goaltender Kevin Nastiuk.
The 1-0 lead would remain until just passed the midway mark of the second period, when Blake Grainger would beat Tyler Weiman to tie it. However, Keenan Desmet responded shortly after with a deflection on an Evan Oberg shot from the point to retake the lead.
In the third, however, the Eagles’ Chad Hohmann would even the score early. Although the Generals continued to create more scoring opportunities than their opponents – outshooting them 45-33 by game’s end – they were unable to find the back of the net until the 11:52 mark when Kyle Stroh rung a goal in off the post on the power play to make it 3-2.
In attempt to even the score once again, the Eagles pulled netminder Nastiuk with about a minute left in the frame, and Phee made no mistake in finding the empty net for his second of the game.
“It’s confidence. (Phee’s) picked up a step. I like what he does, I trust the way he plays,” said Robertson. “He’s very responsible defensively. It’s kind of funny how it works – when you’re good defensively, you end up with the puck more and get those chances.”
It was a good thing he capitalized on his last chance, too, as the Eagles’ Brendan Baumgartner would strike once more with 49 seconds. Fortunately, it would be their last before the final buzzer.
The 4-3 win came with just 12 players on the Generals bench compared to their opponents’ 17, but it’s nothing the team isn’t used to.
“We had the right group tonight. Wednesday night, up there, is going to be tough for us, but so be it,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but we welcome it.”
The next battle in the best-of-five series between the Generals and the Eagles will come on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the Glenn Hall Centennial Arena in Stony Plain. Puck drop is 7:45 p.m.
The Generals will return home for Game 3 on Friday, Feb. 15. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex.
The Generals were 1 for 3 on the power play while the Eagles were 0 for 2….SOG were 45-33 in favour of the Generals….Doug Jessey (1 assist, 6 PIM) was named home star of the game while Kevin Nastiuk (41 saves) was the away star….The Lacombe Generals presented members of the Lacombe Figure Skating Club with flowers (except for Maquire Caddy, who received a hockey stick) as part of an annual tradition….The Generals held a moment of silence for Willie Pagodl, one of their former goal judges and fans who died this past week at the age of 86. He was the Generals goal judge for 15 years….In the ACHW’s other semifinal matchup, the Innisfail Eagles topped the Rosetown Redwings 7-5.