INNISFAIL – With sweat still pouring down Chad Robinson’s face as he was taking off his skates in the dressing room, he was not at that moment just the current captain of the Innisfail Eagles hockey team.
No, he was also the captain of the 2023 provincial champion senior men’s AAA hockey squad from the Chinook Hockey League (CHL) that had just won the title in the team’s milestone 75th anniversary year with a convincing 8 – 3 over the Stony Plain Eagles at the Innisfail Twin Arena on Saturday, March 18.
“This is huge, not just for me but for this team that has been around for 75 plus years,” said Robinson, emphasizing his teammates still have work to do. “One hundred per cent. That is what we are focused on.
“This one feels great, and it’s an honour to win it and we’re going to have fun with it,” he added. “But our eyes are focused on the Allan Cup starting tomorrow.”
Across the dressing room Eagles sniper Jesse Lees had a more personal reason to celebrate.
“My grandpa Jerry Pugh used to play here like 25 or 30 years ago,” said Lees, who scored a hat trick in the game on March 18. “To be able to do this for him and keep the tradition going of the excellence we've had here is huge for me.
“I think it's kind of just been building where we know what kind of group we got in here,” added Lees. “We're a dominant team when we play the right way, and I think tonight was an example of that.”
Innisfail did indeed dominate the resurrected three-team CHL in the regular season but arch-rivals Stony Plain was always competitive.
After winning a thrilling 1 – 0 opening game at home on March 11 in the best-of-five championship series, Innisfail made it 2 – 0 on the road on March 17 with a 5 – 2 win.
At this point it still seemed possible Stony Plain could pull out at least one victory in the series.
But it was not to be.
Innisfail was dominant in the third game right from the start. The local Eagles were just too strong, too quick and too determined for the northern Eagles.
“I’m obviously proud of our group of guys. Unfortunately, we're on the wrong end of a couple of close games, and then tonight it was a little bit out of reach,” said Chad Hohmann, an assistant captain with Stony Plain. “They (Innisfail) have a committed hockey team. They’ve built something there they are working towards, and they've played hard all year. They are a quality hockey team.”
As for the final game, Zane Jones opened the scoring at 18:03 of the first period. Seven minutes later Lees notched his first of three to make it 2 – 0.
Jacob Heimstra then got Stony Plain’s first goal to make it 2 – 1 but that was as close as the visiting team ever got.
Jones scored two more goals to get his hat trick, while Kyle Haas and Colton Hayes got singles to make the final score 8 – 3.
The hometown Eagles outshot Stony Plain 59 to 24.
When it was all over there were huge smiles from both general manager Ryan Dodd and head coach Kevin Smyth.
“You look at guys like Mike Bennett who’s been here longer than I have. He's been here for 30 years. We’ve finally been able to put all the pieces together and play some great hockey and it's unbelievable,” said Dodd.
Smyth said winning the provincial championship was a “great” moment but like captain Robinson said there was still work to do.
“We set out for one job and that was to compete and win the Allan Cup,” said Smyth. “I think we're just getting started.”
The 2023 Allan Cup tournament runs from April 16 to 22 in Dundas, Ontario.