The Eagles gave archrivals the Bentley Generals a run for their money in first round playoff action but let victory drift into the distance as the Generals shifted into high gear both away (5-1) and at home (6-3).
“We kinda let it slip with the penalties,” said Eagles centreman Corey Tibble, following the Jan. 30 matchup on the road. “We didn't battle hard enough.”
Innisfail was dogged by penalties, soft goals and an unrelenting opposition, but ultimately demonstrated a firebrand spirit that many would never have expected at the outset of the season.
Andrew Boute had scored in the first period in Bentley's own barn to keep the game equalized into the second, when Colin Stebbner let two power-play goals in. The Generals added a couple more in the third, though the Eagles kept the pressure on for the whole game.
Brian Sutter ran through plays in his head following the game, clearly frustrated, but with a big smile on his face.
“They're supposed to beat us every period we play,” he said. “We showed we could compete.”
The playoff series gave the team some much needed experience, he added.
“Guys find out if they can play at this level,” he said. “We've got a young team. You've gotta enjoy the process.”
Sutter knew Innisfail was playing against a team he had helped build into an almost unbeatable force. He had even brought over some of the great minds behind Bentley victories.
“You can't over analyze,” he said. “Our top guys have got to be better.”
Assistant coach Kevin Smyth, a key ingredient on the ice in Bentley's run-up to their Allan Cup victory in 2009, says painful losses can teach you a lot.
“You have to hate to lose so bad you start to win,” he said, noting that when victory comes it tastes delicious. “You have to relish the moment.”
Crafting a winning team takes time, he said.
“You've got some structure with Brian Sutter,” he said, “the same as he brought to Bentley. He taught us in Bentley how to win.”
Those lessons were not enough to fend off the attack of the Generals Feb. 30 at the Innisfail Twin Arena.
“We were up 2-1 in the third period, outplaying them, outshooting them,” said Eagles centre Kent Beagle. “This team battled as well as anyone could ask.”
The energetic performance couldn't overpower Bentley's formidable offence, but Beagle still enjoyed soaking up the spirit of the series.
“This was something special for me,” he said. “I was captain of the Bentley Generals for the past five years.”
Fans were kept in the action, and will have something to look forward to as the Eagles face off against the Fort St. John Flyers March 9 and 10 at home for Senior A/A provincials.
“Tell ya what,” said Smyth, “we can add some stuff and really build something here. Rome wasn't built in a day.”