It will be a battle of the Eagles in round one of the Chinook Hockey League playoffs as Innisfail squares off against Stony Plain.
No surprise that Innisfail head coach Brian Sutter expects it to be a real tough series given how the CHL has evolved.
“The league is real, real close,” said Sutter. How close? Well Innisfail finished eight points back of Stony Plain but it could easily have been the other way around for these teams.
“Our biggest problem with our hockey club is we played nine overtime games and we lost seven of them,” said Sutter. “We’d be challenging for first place but we lost three of them to Lacombe and you can’t be doing that.”
The Eagles will be facing former Edmonton Oiler Ryan Smyth and Sutter says he of course will help that team in a big way.
“He’s a difference maker for them and every game we play against them is tight.”
Innisfail has been competitive in every game they have played this season said Sutter, pointing to the fact his team has dropped ten one goal games this season, including three to their upcoming playoff opponent.
Sutter says the difference in those extra time games comes down to a couple of factors.
“To win in overtime you get one more save and be a little bit lucky. That’s what I’ve found in overtime,” he said. “Every team that I was on had one of the best overtime records. In fact in the first couple of years we were in Calgary we had the best record in the league and we certainly didn’t have the best team on paper.”
Add to the mix the fact Stony won three games this year by default and the standings may have flipped.
Innisfail ices one of the younger lineups in the Chinook Hockey League and they are still picking up players to complete the roster. The latest edition is former Ottawa Senator and Chicago Blackhawk draft pick goalie Mike Brodeur. Sutter likes the experience he brings to the somewhat young Eagles.
With a younger team you would think it might be an advantage in a senior hockey league, you know, fresh legs and all that goes with youth. But does that replace the veteran’s saavy?
“Well they (older players) certainly have an edge but we count on them (younger players) in situations where other teams don’t. That’s why we get better and better as the year goes on.”
Sutter says he’s very excited about the playoffs and figures his team can draw from the experience gained in the nail-biting series against Lacombe last year.
The third period has been a strong one for Innisfail which could bode well for them in what is expected to be a tight series.
“Not counting the last game we outscored every team in the league 12-0 in the third period so it’s just little things like that. I’m proud of our team and we’ve come a long way but we know it’s not going to be easy either.”
He says his team is strong as a group which relies on everybody to do their job but he says you need to lean on your veterans when it comes down to crunch time. He pointed to players like Pete and Joe Vandermeer, Tyler Beechey and Brady Gaudet as examples.
“Those guys are leaders on your team and they’ve got to come every night and be that. This time of year your best players have got to be your best players in every situation.”
The feathers start flying Saturday February 11th in Stony Plain.