Local Birds shut out Stony Plain at Innisfail Twin Arena; now preparing for provincial championship
INNISFAIL – The Birds of Innisfail were back home for the first time in more than a month and provided fans with a convincing 4-0 victory over the Stony Plain Eagles.
It wasn’t a completely overpowering performance by the Chinook Hockey League-leading hometown team on Feb. 25 at the Innisfail Twin Arena as their longtime arch rivals played with just 14 players.
However, Innisfail, which has already claimed first place in the three-team AAA senior men’s hockey league, still proved they are the overwhelming favourite to claim the provincial championship playoff series against Stony Plain that begins March 11 at the Innisfail Twin Arena.
If Innisfail wins, they would have a national championship shot in spring at the Allan Cup tourney in Hamilton, Ont.
Innisfail is simply the better team right now. They skate better. The team’s play execution is nearly flawless, and their goaltending is just too tough to beat.
“I think we’ve been pretty good all year long. We’ve got a good group; a good mix of older guys, and you know some younger guys, and then that middle group is the group that’s really helped us a ton,” said Innisfail head coach Kevin Smyth. “I think that’s probably the difference between us and them.”
The Innisfail Eagles opened the scoring quickly with Mitch Lipon notching his first goal at 18:13.
Innisfail added two more in the first with Pierre-Luc Mercier adding his 14th goal of the season at 4:10 and Lipon getting his second of the game at 2:56.
In the second period Riley Simpson made it 4 – 0 at 18:09 with his sixth goal of the year.
There was no scoring in the final period but Innisfail continued to dominate the action, outshooting Stony Plain 45 to 18 over three periods.
Innisfail goalie Matt Climie claimed the shutout.
“The guys brought the intensity right from the start,” said Climie. “Momentum is on our side right now and we just want to play well in the playoffs and then go to the Allan Cup and come back with the championship.”
Meanwhile, Stony Plain head coach Bryan Forslund said being undermanned by injuries put his squad at a clear disadvantage against a determined and skilled Innisfail team.
“They (Innisfail) play us tough every time we’re here, so we knew they were going to be skating fast and working hard,” said Forslund. “We would have liked a better result but we knew we were up against an uphill battle.”
Even still with the provincial championship series coming up Forslund believes his squad will do everything they can to be competitive.
“We’ve beat them once this year; we’ve been to overtime twice. It’s going to take us a full effort of having a full lineup to compete,” said Forslund. “We have good players. I think our top players can match up.”