INNISFAIL – There is no way the Siksika Buffaloes should ever beat the Innisfail Eagles but for a good chunk of the first period of the game on Dec. 18 the visiting team from down south made things uncomfortably interesting for the Birds.
This game wasn’t a first period blowout like the two previous Eagles’ home games against Fort Macleod. Instead, Siksika shockingly burst out of the gate with a 2 - 0 lead before six minutes had been played. This was followed by a goal from the Eagles’ Pierre-Luc Mercier to make it 2 – 1.
But just under four minutes later Siksika’s Zach McNeil made it 3-1 for his visiting Buffaloes, who up to then played with attitude, getting under the skins of several Eagles despite being badly outshot.
Whoa. Few if any fans at the Arena expected this.
However, it was at this point the Eagles settled down. Kyle Sheen got his first of two at 15:02, and Riley Simpson tied it two minutes later. With just under a minute left to play in the opening frame, Levi Nelson finally put the Eagles ahead 4 – 3, a lead the Birds would not relinquish.
“We know what we need to do and to stay composed,” said Sheen, who ended the game with two goals and an assist. “They’ve got some good hockey players over there who know how to play the game. It showed the way they jumped on us, a 3 – 1 lead. We played our game, and just kept plugging away.
“They came out with a little bit more fire than they did last time,” added Sheen, comparing his team’s Nov. 20th road game against Siksika, which they won 7 – 2. “They’ve been playing with a lot of confidence. At the start of the game, it showed. We kept skating all game. I think we just tired them out towards the end.”
When the game was over the scoreboard read 9 – 4 for Innisfail, the Birds seventh straight victory in their first ever season in the Ranchland Hockey League, an AA tier circuit but one the AAA Eagles, in their quest to win an upcoming Allan Cup championship, are grateful to play in.
The Eagles also got two goals from Braden Crone, a second from Mercier, and one from Quintin Lisoway. Siksika netminder Arlan Kaquitts was blitzed with 54 shots on net while Innisfail’s Kyle Fraser faced 21.
With another win to give the Birds a 7 – 0 record at the Christmas break, Eagles head coach Brian Sutter had plenty to smile about after the game, especially with his team facing its first test of adversity at home, and overcoming it.
“We talked about that after the game, exactly that. You are 100 per cent correct. We faced it and we had adversity for different reasons, like whether we put ourselves in that position or not. We did and we were behind. That was a fact,” said Sutter. “You got to be in those situations and we have a couple times already, like when we won 4 – 3 in Nanton (Nov. 27).
“You have got to play with discipline, you’ve got to stick with the program and we do. When we get away from it you get into trouble but when you do stay with it you get rewarded,” said Sutter, emphasizing the win showed a “lot of character” from his team.
On the other side, Jason Doore, the head coach of the Buffaloes, said his team came out strong, moved the puck forward and got shots on net that resulted in the early lead.
However, while praising the Eagles’ obvious level of superior skill he noted his team became undisciplined, allowing the Birds to get back in the game and ultimately win convincingly.
“We kind of let the foot off the peddle there and let them skate and once they got skating, we started to chase the puck. If we had continued what we were doing it would have been a lot closer,” said Doore, noting his team was down just 3-2 after two periods on Nov. 20 but a six-minute powerplay by the Eagles sank them for the 7 – 2 loss. “I honestly think they (Eagles) are beatable. We were missing four of our main guys tonight.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Innisfail,” added Doore. “They are a good club, and they are AAA.”
The Eagles next game is on the road on Jan. 8 to play the Nanton Palominos. Nanton then comes to Innisfail to play the Eagles at the Arena on Jan. 15 and 16.