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Innisfail Eagles drop first game of Allan Cup Challenge

Innisfail Eagles get behind 5-1 deep into the third period but storm back to make the game a nailbiter, a heartbreaking loss as it was
The Innisfail Eagles opened their third Allan Cup Challenge since 2019 on the night of Sunday night, April 21 in Dundas, Ontario. Graphic by Candice Hughes

Spirits were high for the Innisfail Eagles going into the team’s first round-robin game of the 2024 Allan Cup Challenge but Ontario's Stoney Creek Tigers spoiled the mood.

But the Alberta team’s opening Allan Cup game on the evening of April 21 at the J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas, Ontario marked another heartbreaking Allan Cup loss for Innisfail, and now the team will have to dig deep a little harder for their next two games of the four-team round-robin preliminary round of the week-long tournament.

The final score was 5-4 for Stoney Creek, the Ontario senior men’s champions.

“I think the flight and not playing in a month kind of caught up to us. You could can see it in the first period. We were a little slower, and not really sticking to our game plan, and obviously in the second period we definitely got away from our game,” said Ryan Dodd, the Eagles’ general manager and assistant coach. “We really regrouped in the third period and really came out flying.

“Once we started skating we really started to hit our stride and the game came into our hands. I mean, they couldn't skate with us,” added Dodd.

“We'll have a good night's sleep and a couple of good meals into us and then we'll be ready to go.”

The Birds are back at it Monday, April 22 in the preliminary round against the defending Allan Cup champion Dundas Real McCoys. Puck drop is 5:30 p.m. The game will be live streamed on the Eagles’ Facebook page.

“This is going to be in their (Real McCoys) home rink,” said Dodd. “This is their barn and they won their first (round-robin) game, and so they are one win and zero losses and they are looking for a trip to the Allan Cup final and we’re standing in their way.

“We’re going to put more pucks on the net,” added Dodd. “One thing we didn’t do tonight was to get enough pucks on net.”

The Eagles team, along with coaches and staff, arrived in Ontario by plane early in the morning of April 20.

Innisfail has been in three straight Allan Cup challenges. In 2019 the Eagles were finalists in 2019, but bowed to Lacombe in the championship game.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was no Allan Cup Challenge in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

But the Eagles were in Dundas last year for the 2023 Allan Cup Challenge but did not make it past the round-robin round. It was a huge heartbreak for the squad.

But hope was sky high for 2024.

However, Stoney Creek had other ideas for the first game of the four-team round-robin play against Innisfail.

Stoney’s Michael Ruberto scored a shorthanded first goal of the game at 14:20.

And it stayed that way after the first period. The Tigers outshot the Eagles 17 to 10, which kept Innisfail starting goalie Travis Yonkman busy.

In the second period the Tigers struck early at 19:02 on a goal by Josh Ranalli. It was 2-0 for Stoney Creek.

Three minutes later the Eagles had a chance on a power play to get back in the game but they could not capitalize.

And then at 10:03 the Tigers struck again on a goal by Bo Webster, and it was 3-0 for Stoney Creek.

And the Tigers kept coming.

At 3:03 the Tigers’ Stephen Thorne made it 4-0, putting the Eagles in a deep hole.

But with just 26 seconds left in the second period Colten Hayes finally got Innisfail back in the game, a goal the Eagles desperately needed.

It was 4-1 for Stoney after 40 minutes of play.

Once again the Tigers outshot the Eagles by a margin of 18 to 10.

The Eagles came into the third with more fire in their legs. They pressed Stoney hard and had an early power play but could not put the puck past Tigers goalie Daniel Svedin.

And then at 7:35 the Tigers struck again on an unassisted goal by Ruberto, his second of the game to make it 5-1.

The Eagles could have then just rolled over but their hearts came out in overdrive.

Twenty-four seconds after the Tigers’ fifth goal the Eagles’ Shawn Bates made it 5-2.

And then 44 seconds later Innisfail’s Jesse Lees scored another and it was 5-3.

The Eagles kept pressing but Svedin stopped everything Innisfail could blast his way.

But with 1:54 remaining luck finally came Innisfail’s way.

A shot fired by the Eagles at the Stoney Creek goal bounced off Svedin and into the net. The Eagles Dan Vandermeer got credit for the goal and it was 5-4.

The Eagles kept up the pressure. Yonkman was pulled for an extra attacker.

But it was not to be. The game ended 5-4 for Stoney Creek.

Unlike the first two periods the Eagles outshot the Tigers in the third period by a margin of 14-9.

For the entire game Stoney outshot the Birds 44-34.

But things will be different for Innisfail in the tourney’s second game against Dundas, insisted Dodd.

“It’s going to be a different mentality. We're going to put more pucks on the net. We’re going to go there with a purpose,” said Dodd. “We know what we got to do.”

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