INNISFAIL – The Chinook Hockey League’s playoffs began last weekend and Innisfail hockey fans were treated to arguably the best and most exciting game in at least three years.
It was a full-fledged barnburner at the Innisfail Twin Arena on March 11 between the Birds of Innisfail and arch-rivals Stony Plain Eagles with the home club winning 1 – 0.
Innisfail took the first game of the best of five final series, which is also doubling as the senior men's AAA provincial championship.
The game's only goal was scored by Innisfail’s Parker Smyth on a deflection in front of the net at 14:56 of the second period.
The rest of the game was a duel between two excellent goalies; Innisfail’s Matt Climie and Stony Plain’s Jordon Cooke.
Cooke faced far more shots, with 57 blasted his way over 60 minutes compared to 30 for Climie.
Both goalies were tested time and time again.
Climie robbed Stony Plain from evening up the score in the second period when Innisfail was shorthanded two players for two full minutes. In a 10-second span Climie made three sensational saves.
“When you get a five-on-three it would have been nice to get that goal and tie the game up. He (Climie) did make some great saves on that. You have to give him credit,” said Stony Plain head coach Bryan Forslund. “It would have been nice to capitalize on the five-on-three for sure.”
Over in the other dressing room it was all smiles. Sure, Innisfail had the definite edge in play in the game but Stony Plain is a team that just won’t quit.
“They're a team that's got a lot of veteran guys. They've been doing this for a very long time,” said Smyth. “They know how to play in those games, and we were lucky to get away with just one but we're going to need to step it up for the next one.”
Innisfail’s head coach Kevin Smyth is not overly worried his squad won by only the thinnest of margins.
“We outshot them 52 to something. He (Cooke) played well but I think we can test him a little bit more,” said the coach, adding he would like his team to have a “little bit more” traffic in front of the net to open up more scoring opportunities.
But in the end, he’s happy with the way his team is playing.
“I expect us to play the same way. We've done the same things all year long and we just got to continue to do that,” he said.
Game 2 of the series is in Stony Plain on March 17, and then its back to Innisfail the next day (March 18). Puck drop is 8 p.m.