The Cochrane Generals have advanced to the second round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) playoffs after upending the Medicine Hat Cubs two games to one in their best-of-three series.
Cochrane dominated the season series with the Generals winning all four meetings between the two teams, outscoring them by a score of 17-4. The Generals also finished 23 points ahead of Medicine Hat in the regular season, and it seemed like the playoff series was going to be eerily similar after game one in which the Generals won convincingly, dumping the Cubs 17-0 on Feb. 15.
Cochrane dominated the game from start to finish, scoring less than 15 seconds into the game and built up an 8-0 lead before the buzzer sounded signaling the end of the first period. The Generals scored five more in the second to stretch their lead to 13-0 and 17-0 at the end of the game after the home side fired 74 shots at an exhausted Cubs goaltender. Every member of the Generals finished the game with at least a point, but Jarod Domingo had four goals and two assists, Brandon Aab had one goal and five assists while Talus Hume, Austin Keller, Will Gretton and Walid Hassin all finished the game with four points each. Knute Loe got the call in net for the Generals, stopping all 20 shots he faced on the evening.
Cochrane had to hit the road on Feb. 17 to Medicine Hat with a chance to close out the series. The Generals fired an astounding 81 shots at the Cubs net but only Braden Bain was able to beat the Cubbies goaltender, while the home side were able to beat Knute Loe twice, one early in the first and the second goal coming with just over three minutes remaining in the game to give Medicine Hat a 2-1 victory to even the series at one game apiece. Only Bain and Jarod Domingo hit the score sheet for the Generals, while Loe kicked out 23 of the 25 shots he faced.
The third and deciding game came the following afternoon on Feb. 18 back at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre on Feb. 18. The game was a back and forth affair, with teams trading goals throughout the contest. The game was tied 2-2 after one, with Chris Sambrook and Will Gretton finding the back of the net for the Generals. Gretton scored his second of the game early in the second period, Colton Wong also scored to stretch Cochrane’s lead to 4-2 … the lead was short-lived though with Medicine Hat responding with two to even the score. With 7:52 remaining in the elimination game, Gretton potted his third goal of the game and Austin Keller scored 52 seconds after to give the Generals a 6-4 win, pushing them past the Cubs.
The hero of game 3 was Will Gretton with his three-goal performance on the afternoon. The defenceman has not been known for his goal scoring abilities in his two seasons with the Generals, amassing three goals total with Cochrane. The Calgary native already has four goals and eight points in three playoff contests.
The stay-at-home defenceman said he’s just trying to do anything possible to help his team win.
“I don’t score a lot of goals but I don’t think I did anything special to get three on Sunday. It was my first hat trick since my first year playing hockey in novice,’ Gretton said with a laugh when asked of his performance.
“The forwards moved the puck back to the defence really well and they were crashing the net hard. I had the shot but the guys up front were the reason for those pucks finding their way into the net.”
The over-aged defenceman also said that facing some adversity in games two and three against Medicine Hat should help the Generals moving forward.
“I think it got the returning players back into the mind set of playoff hockey,” Gretton said.
“Those last two games really showed the new guys on the team how tough closing out a series can really be.”
Cochrane will now face off with the second place Okotoks Bisons in a best-of-five second round series. Game 1 is Feb. 23 in Okotoks. Game 2 will be back in Cochrane the following day with puck drop taking place at 7:30 p.m. Game 3 will shift back to Okotoks on Feb. 25. The remaining games of the series will be decided at a later date.
Okotoks finished one point ahead of the Generals in the Southern Division standings and the two teams split the season series, each winning twice.
“We’re certainly expecting the most physically demanding brand of hockey that we’ve played all year,” Gretton said.
“Okotoks is a big team, and relying on our speed alone isn’t going to get us through. We’re going to have to play tough and take each hit as they come.”