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Innisfail Eagles’ chase for national Allan Cup is over

Birds play best game of the national senior hockey preliminary round but fall short and won’t move on to semifinal
The Innisfail Eagles season is over. The Birds, playing their best game of the four-team preliminary round-robin at the Allan Cup Challenge, were defeated 2-0 on April 24 by the Southern Shore Breakers and won't advance to this week's semifinal game. Graphic by Candice Hughes

The Innisfail Eagles’ quest to bring home the historic Allan Cup will have to wait for another season.

On Wednesday afternoon (April 24) in Dundas, Ontario the Birds were defeated 2-0 by Newfoundland and Labrador’s Southern Shore Breakers in the team’s third and final game of the four-team preliminary round-robin.

It was Innisfail’s final chance to earn at least a berth in Friday’s semifinal at the week-long Allan Cup Challenge after losing the first two games of the preliminary round.

The loss marks Innisfail’s second consecutive year the team has failed to get past the Allan Cup Challenge’s preliminary round and onto the semifinal or final. In 2019, the Eagles made it to the final but lost to Lacombe.

The final preliminary round game on April 24 at Dundas’ J.L. Grightmire Arena was by far the Eagles' best of the tournament but the team had the huge misfortune of running into a hot opposing goaltender.

Unlike the first two games, the Birds’ attacking crew played with consistent force and intensity, and outplayed Southern Shore most of the game.

But Breakers netminder A.J. Whiffen was a brick wall and stymied the Birds time and time again.

It also must be fairly said that Innisfail goalie Brodan Salmond was solid between the pipes as well.

The Eagles, with a record of two losses and zero wins, came into the game needing to absolutely win the last game of the preliminary round-robin.

Going in, the Birds knew the Breakers were no pushovers, having beat the Stoney Creek Tigers 4-2 the night before, their first victory of the tourney.

The winless Eagles took a penalty early, with Kurtis Dulle being called for cross-checking at 18:53.

The Breakers swarmed all around Salmond but he held the fort, and the Birds survived the early onslaught.

Southern Shore’s early blitz appeared to energize the Birds.

Innisfail went on to control the play with purpose and intensity, and had several solid scoring chances against Whiffen for the rest of the opening period.

Neither team scored in the first 20 minutes but the Eagles could at least feel relieved the offence was generating chances and they outshot the Breakers 12-9.

The second period was again intense with both teams skating hard to get the first goal.

And with time edging forward and the stakes high, something just had to break.

But it was Southern Shore that got the break; a Breakers’ shot deflecting off Salmond and into the net for the game’s opening goal.

It was credited to Southern Shore’s Kevin Reid and the Breakers were up 1-0.

The game went back and forth with the Eagles once again controlling play and Salmond continuing to shut the door on Southern Shore when duty called, notably at 7:05 when on a two-on-one he made a spectacular save to keep the Birds in the game.

After 40 minutes of play the Breakers led 1-0 but for the second consecutive period the Eagles outshot Southern Shore by a margin of 16-12.

The Eagles continued to press in the final period, out-skating and out-playing Southern Shore but the Birds just could not get the puck past Whiffen.

Eagles head coach Kevin Smyth pulled Salmond with almost two and half minutes left to play but with 1:41 left the Breakers’ Andrew Paul scored an empty net goal.

The Eagles continued the good fight the rest of the way with six attackers but the game ended 2-0 for Southern Shore.

For the third period in a row the Birds outshot the Breakers. The Eagles had a total of 41 shots on Whiffen, while Salmond faced 31.

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