CANMORE – The Canmore Eagles winning streak has reached a season-high four games.
New Year celebrations continued Saturday evening (Jan. 1) for the Junior A club as winger Kayden Smith’s huge overtime winner pumped the Okotoks Oilers 3-2 at the Canmore Recreation Centre.
"Yeah, obviously we’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, a couple of injuries, so it feels good to get the bounces we’ve needed and some things starting to go our way," said Smith.
Eagles forwards Kyle Young and Ethan Schaeffer scored, defenceman Drae Gardiner had an assist, and speedy forward Vincent Scott had two helpers, including feeding Smith’s game winner.
“[Scott] stepped on the ice and he burnt his guy one-on-one and I thought we had a good chance with the two-on-one there,” said Smith, who capped off the night with two points. “I thought [Scott] was going to shoot, to be honest, and then moved it over and there it was, overtime winner.”
The first victory of 2022 extends the club's streak to four games, which started mid-December after the Eagles knocked off the Blackfalds Bulldogs and Calgary Canucks twice in becoming one of the AJHL’s hottest teams alongside powerhouses Spruce Grove Saints and Brooks Bandits, the top two teams in the north and south divisions.
“I’m really happy for the guys,” said Andrew Milne, Eagles head coach and general manager. “They’ve worked really hard at it this year and to have some success is great. I think they’re feeling good about their game and they’re playing with confidence.”
However, overtime play is starting to feel a little too familiar for the Eagles.
Canmore has taken things to extra minutes a league-high 11 times – four more than the closest teams – grinding out a 5-6 record and snagging 16 points in the five-minute period of three-on-three.
The club is playing meaningful hockey, said Milne, but the OT record is far from the success the club wants to have.
“Overtime’s a crapshoot. It can go either way and that’s the problem taking it to overtime," said Milne. "But on the other side of that, I think our group has done a good job of staying in games and we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to win each night."
Another factor in the club's recent turn for the better is players returning to the depleted lineup from injuries that have punched the Eagles in the gut throughout the season and forced extra minutes onto key players.
Defenceman Dylan Bidyk and forward Sam McPeak returned to reinforce lines after being out two months, and captain Lane Paddison, Evan Waldie and Mitchell Watson are expected to return this month as well.
“We’re sort of a revolving door and the good news is we’re trending in the right direction and it looks like at the right time of year we’re going to get the majority of those guys healthy," said Milne.
Before Saturday’s game, the Eagles' power play rose to 21 per cent over the three previous games, which is a slight improvement from the Eagles' season average of 14 per cent – last in the league.
Scoring struggles have been widely noted this season as well, but during the four-game streak, Canmore is top five in the league in goals scored as of Sunday (Jan. 2) with 16.
"With injuries, we’ve been so out of whack with our ice time that guys have been sacrificing probably power play minutes in order to make sure our five-on-five game is better," said Milne. "So now that we get some guys back from injury and we have a healthy lineup, I think it’s going to help our power play and allow for just a bit more execution when we get to those situations."
The Eagles are on the road for the next two games against the Oilers on Friday (Jan. 7) and the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Sunday (Jan. 9). On Tuesday (Jan. 11), the Eagles return home at 7 p.m. against Sherwood Park Crusaders to start a four-game homestand.