CANMORE – The Eagles are looking forward to some well deserved R&R.
After four games in a row against the top two teams in the southern division, Brooks and Okotoks, the Eagles are tired.
“[The] guys definitely have some bumps and bruises after the last few games, we all need a little time to rest and recover for sure,” said rookie blueliner Dylan Witzke. “I think mental fatigue is something we will have to recover from as well. That was a lot of high intensity hockey in the last four games. We will need to be sharp and won’t want to have any mental lapses going forward.”
On Friday (Feb. 7), in Okotoks, the Eagles went the distance against the league’s hottest team, snapping the Oilers 13-game winning streak in a shootout.
Alex Young scored his first hat trick of the season, notching his 200th AJHL point in the process.
“I really wasn’t paying attention to the milestone to be honest, I’m more focused on trying to help the team win right now,” said Young. “I’ve had a little time to reflect about it after the fact and it’s nice to look back at my career and see a special achievement like this.”
The next night, the Oilers were looking for revenge when the team paid a visit to the Eagles Nest in Canmore. Headed into the game, the Eagles were on a four-game winning streak, the longest of the season for the Canmore club.
Young extended his scoring streak to 10 games after scoring the opening goal of the contest.
“This time of the year, in close games, you just have to keep things simple, chip pucks in deep, get low, and be hard on the forecheck, and I have had success playing that way lately,” Young said.
Despite scoring 90 seconds into the game, the Eagles were a step behind the Oilers throughout the three periods.
“I thought we looked a little fatigued," said Eagles head coach Andrew Milne, after the team’s 4-1 loss to the Oilers on Saturday (Feb. 8). "Obviously we weren’t mentally sharp, we bobbled pucks, we weren’t as aggressive as we could be. We played 12 periods of some very good hockey in the last couple weeks, and I think we just ran out of gas tonight.”
With just under a week to recover, the Eagles will turn their focus to the Drumheller Dragons this Friday (Feb. 14) when they travel to the Badlands.
In five outings this season against the Dragons, the Eagles have three regulation losses with two being in overtime, but Milne is positive his side’s recent success will tip the scales in the team’s favour.
“The guys are buying into what we have to do to be successful. Anytime you have success it breeds success,” Milne said. “When the guys do something and get rewarded, they’re going to do it again. They’re buying into the fact that, ‘Oh, that does work and I should do that action over and over’, and that’s how we can continue to build off that.”
Milne also stressed the importance of playing with pace against Drumheller and how rest and reviewing game film will be vital to being successful against the Dragons.
Saturday's loss was Devin Chapman’s first in his last five starts and may provide an opportunity for Kadin Kilpatrick to make his first start since Jan. 24.
“Chappie [Chapman] has been on a roll lately, but Killer [Kilpatrick] is also eager to get back in the net. Kadin knew he wasn’t going to get a chance until we lost so now I think this is an opportunity for him to step up,” Milne said.
With six games remaining in the schedule, Young says the games are starting have a playoff feel.
“The last few games we played felt like playoff games, and the fact that we went three-for-four in those games shows us that we can play against anyone and beat any team. We have a lot of confidence moving forward,” said Young.
The Eagles will return to home ice on Saturday (Feb. 15) to host Brooks, in the two teams' final meeting of the season, before facing off against Drumheller on Monday (Feb. 17) in an afternoon matinee.
On Tuesday (Feb. 11) the AJHL annouced the nominees for the league's annual awards. Eagles linemates Alex Young and Connor Lyons were among the 20 players nominated across five awards. Young's impressive season earned him a nomination as the league's most valuable player, while Lyons tireless work ethic garned him a most dedicated player award nomination.