INNISFAIL – The Birds of Innisfail once again encountered a hot goaltender last weekend but like every other game this season it’s just a matter of time before the damn breaks.
The Lethbridge Lightning came to the Innisfail Arena for two games on Jan. 29 and 30 hoping they could do what every other team in the senior AA men's Ranchland Hockey League couldn’t – sneak in a win against the mighty undefeated AAA Innisfail Eagles.
The Lightning scored first in the opening period and goalie Alex Sirard, a former Eagles netminder from the 2015/16 season, stood on his head as the Birds blitzed him with one wave after another.
However, it was inevitable the Lightning’s luck could not hold. The Eagles’ Tyson Scott tied the game at 14:32, and the score remained 1 – 1 after 20 minutes, with the Eagles outshooting Lethbridge 23 - 9.
The second period started the same way but changed when the Eagles’ line of Quintin Lisoway, Kyle Sheen and Levi Nelson went into high gear.
Lisoway scored at 13:26. Twelve seconds later Pierre-Luc Mercier made it 3 – 1, which stayed after two periods. Lethbridge was outshot 44 - 18.
The Eagles continued their pressure in the third, and Lisoway got his second goal at 6:07. Chad Robinson closed out the scoring at 11:41. The game ended 5 – 1 for the Eagles. The Birds outshot the Lightning 66 – 24.
After the game Lisoway, who is now in second place in league scoring with 23 points behind Sheen with 24, saluted his linemates for his success.
“They skate and move the puck well. That helps to contribute to scoring goals. They look for me, and luckily I’m able to put the puck in the net when I get a chance,” said the 26-year-old forward, adding the team’s consistent winning ways is all part of the plan to win this spring’s Allan Cup in Ontario. “I think this whole season has been a slow build-up to where we are at now. I feel we’re starting to skate better as a team and move the puck better as a team, and it’s contributing to wins.
“We play a hard honest game every night and our record shows it,” added Lisoway. “We’ve got the best coach in the league in Sutts and we’ve got a great group of guys in this room who all want to play hard for each other because the end goal is the Allan Cup. We all have that in our sights.”
Head coach Brian Sutter said he knew Lethbridge would come to Innisfail wanting to play their “game of the year”, noting there was payback in mind as the Birds crushed the Lightning 12 – 4 back on Nov. 6.
“We started and after the first period we wanted to be better, and we were,” said Sutter, who praised Sirard. “He’s a good goalie. But we got better in the second. If you keep coming the waves keep coming.”
Sutter also saluted the job of Eagles’ goalie Kraymer Barnstable, who played his first game of the year, along with the versatility of his team as two forwards – Robinson and Nicholas Noseworthy – switched to defence for the game.
“We got some special players. We’ve got some guys who have the ability to be playing for Canada in the Olympics,” said Sutter, adding he’s been impressed with Lisoway’s performance this season but he won’t judge any player’s success solely on the number of points he gets.
“He’s a special guy like that. That’s his reward for working hard away from the puck, and then he has it. His linemates Levi Nelson and Sheener were pretty darn good tonight too. That’s pretty special.”
Meanwhile, Lethbridge head coach Shay Wirll said his team battled hard and each player is still learning how to play a skilled team like Innisfail.
He noted his team is still young and only been developing for five years in the AA Ranchland Hockey League. He said playing a AAA team like the Eagles is a good learning experience.
“When we came into the Ranchland, we strived to get good teams in and good hockey. When they (Innisfail) contacted us wanting to come and play it was almost unanimous to have them come. We knew it was going to be tough hockey. We knew they came here they’d win most of their games if not all,” said Wirll, adding there was a “lot” to say to his players after a game when they have been outplayed and outshot, like they were on Jan. 29.
“Obviously you’ve got to congratulate your goaltender for standing on his head for you. If we can keep those shots down to low quality scoring chance, we’re OK with it.”
With the win the Eagles improve their perfect regular season record in the five- team league to 10 wins and no losses. Lethbridge is in second place with a record of six wins and five losses.
The planned second weekend game on Jan. 30 was cancelled due to a failure of the blue rink’s brine pump. The game will be re-scheduled for a later date.
The Eagles' next game is at home on Feb. 5 against the Siksika Buffaloes. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.