The Fort St. John Senior Flyers had their first taste of AAA hockey this past weekend when they travelled to Alberta to take on the Bentley Generals in back-to-back exhibition games Nov. 10 and 11.
While the Flyers lost both outings 8-4 and 4-3, head coach Darrel Leahy came out of the weekend more confident about his team’s future.
“Overall [Bentley has] played some more games than us and it was evident, they probably had better conditioning than us, but at the same time it gave me a lot of confidence that we’re right there with them,” Leahy said.
“We’ve got a little more in the mix than what we had there and I feel quite confident that we can compete with that team.”
The Flyers were missing some key guys in Bentley, like Arlo Hadland, Bryan Lewis, Mike Lalonde and Ryan Carter while the Generals had their full line up. The Flyers even adopted some former Flyers for the weekend, including Steve Fast, Taylor Rovatti and Paydon Wongstead.
The Generals also had seven more games under their belt this season, but regardless Leahy knows his team still has a few kinks to work through.
On Saturday night some penalty trouble and lucky bounces in the second period put the Generals up 5-2 in front of a crowd of 400, which the Flyers couldn’t recover from. They ended up losing 8-4 despite goals from Todd Alexander, Jeff Fast, Matt Shuya and Rick Cleaver.
“We had some penalties, obviously, and they took advantage of every situation,” Leahy said. “The shots on net were fairly even, 32-38, and they got a couple soft ones, but it wasn’t the difference in the game by any means.”
“Every time we left an open lane, they used it, especially early on. What I’m sure we did learn is if you make one mistake it turns into a scoring chance so you really have to limit your mistakes, everyone has to play smart.”
The Flyers’ second game on Sunday, however, was much closer.
After trailing in the second 4-1, the Flyers found some arsenal in the third period from Alexander and Luke Middleton to bring the game within one. The Flyers outshot the Generals 32-28, but had no puck luck to put one past Bentley’s goalie Travis Yonkman.
“It was a learning experience,” Leahy said. “It was a good weekend, a positive weekend.”
“We rolled four lines and everybody played, four lines and six defencemen. It was just exhibition and we wanted to get a look at everybody. We saw both goaltenders on the weekend and we spread it around. It wasn’t significant to win the games, but it would’ve been nice.”
The Flyers will have another opportunity to beat Bentley Jan. 5 and 6 on home ice at North Peace Arena. In the meantime they will have some North Peace Hockey League teams to play.
This Saturday the Grande Prairie Athletics will come to Fort St. John to play the Flyers for the second time this season. The Flyers are still undefeated in the NPHL (3-0-0) while the Athletics are sitting at 3-1-1.
The puck drops at North Peace Arena at 8:30 on Nov. 17.