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Eagles soar in weekend home opener

Senior men’s hockey team finally plays at the Innisfail Arena after four consecutive road wins

INNISFAIL – The Innisfail Eagles returned to the Innisfail Arena for regular season action last weekend for the first time in 20 months and blitzed their way to back-to-back 10 – 0 victories.

“You could see in the warm-up the guys were just bouncing, jumping everywhere,” said Eagles general manager Ryan Dodd, whose senior mens hockey team’s long absence from home was due to the trials of the COVID pandemic. “They were excited to get back out and playing in front of their fans, sponsors and of course their families.”

The Eagles’ faced the Fort Macleod Mustangs in the weekend doubleheader and stormed out of the gate right from the start on Dec. 4, and never held back.

Led by a hattrick from Nicholas Noseworthy, two each from Pierre-Luc Mercier and Levi Nelson, and singles from Dalton Eagle Bear, Kyle Sheen and Quintin Lisoway, the Eagles rolled to an easy 10 – 0 victory.

“It was really nice to finally play a home game and I think we came out pretty fast out there and we saw a good result in the first period,” said Mercier, a newcomer to the Eagles, who scored the first goal of the game just 57 seconds after the opening puck drop.

The Eagles then scored five more times in the first, throwing wave after wave of offensive power against beleaguered Fort Macleod goalie Daniel Wenham who was peppered with 24 shots over the first 20 minutes, compared to just three directed at Eagles’ netminder Kyle Fraser.

When the game ended, the Eagles had blasted 57 shots on the Mustangs’ net, compared to just 17 fired on Fraser.

“It’s a like a horse race. Everybody has got to chase you. We played how we practice and we played them once before and their goalie stood on his head, otherwise the score would have been a lot more than it was,” said Eagles’ head coach Brian Sutter. “We know what we got to do, and we know how we got to play. I like how we prepared.

“We’ve got to set the standards of how we play, and we talk about it all the time and it isn’t easy. We know how it’s going to be most nights. We did start very good but that’s because we were ready to play.”

It was much the same story the following afternoon on Dec. 5. The Eagles’ Sheen opened the scoring 39 seconds into the first period. The Birds scored four more times in the opening frame and were quickly ahead 5 – 0.

They added three more in the second and another two in the third. Tyson Scott led the way with a hattrick, followed by a pair from Sheen and Lisoway, and one each from Riley Simpson, Chad Robinson and Mercier.

The Eagles home-opening games on Dec. 4 and 5 were their fifth and sixth consecutive wins since the start of their season on Oct. 16 when the Birds defeated Fort Macleod 8 – 0.

This season is the first for the AAA-level Eagles playing in the five-team Ranchland Hockey League (RHL), a level AA-level mens hockey circuit.

Mustangs’ head coach Darcy Widdifield said playing the higher AAA-level Eagles is a “great challenge” for the league’s existing AA teams. He added last weekend’s action was an opportunity to “learn a ton” from a highly skilled squad.

Widdifield noted his team was able to survive an opening period onslaught on Dec. 4 and play better the rest of the way.

“We picked up our game defensively in our own zone, and we stopped over-committing and chasing and held our house and defended the middle of the ice, kept them outside, kept them wide and kept the shots down,” said Widdifield,

“The first time we played the Eagles they had 83 shots on our goalie, so today (Dec. 4) to bring it down to 57 that is like 26 shots less. From our perspective it’s a great improvement.”

And on Dec. 5, the Mustangs once again were able to cut down on the total shots fired their way. The Eagles had 50 on Fort Macleod goalie Nick Lepp.

The next Eagles game is at home on Dec. 18 when they host the Siksika Buffaloes. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.

Story and photos by Johnnie Bachusky / The Albertan