Playing its first pair of games this season against last year’s top two teams did not seem to faze the Cochrane Generals.
The junior B Generals opened the 2019-20 Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) campaign Sept. 21 with a 5-0 win over the Airdrie Thunder at the Spray Lakes Sawmill Family Sports Centre, before the team narrowly lost 3-2 on the road to the Coaldale Copperheads the following day.
“We had a really strong weekend,” said head coach Kurtis Jones, who joined the team after nine years of junior A coaching experience in Canmore. “We played both games really hard. We made a couple of mistakes that Coaldale capitalized on, but overall, I’m very happy with the outcome and what’s in front of me.”
Cochrane’s players spread out the scoring against the Thunder, with five players contributing to the goal haul. First-year Patrick Forde opened the scoring for the Gens before goals from Jordan Fisher, Cade Chudleigh, Takura Okada and captain Brandon Aab increased the lead.
"We have a lot of scoring potential coming in from the new guys on the team, as well as the guys from last year," Aab said. "Now, it's just a matter of guys stepping up and taking a bigger role as a player or as a line."
Stepping up was exactly what the Gens did in its season opener.
The Generals’ win over the Thunder – the reigning HJHL champion – was the first time the Airdrie team had been shut out in a run of 57 competitive games. Airdrie went 46-5-0 in the HJHL last year, before wrapping up its dominant season by winning the provincial junior B championship in April.
“We knew they haven’t lost in a while, in regular season, so we knew what we were against,” Jones said. “We got mentally prepared for the game and we were ready to go.”
After overcoming the Thunder, the Generals’ next opponent was Coaldale – last year’s HJHL south division champion and league runner-up. The game was tied 2-2 early into the third period, before the Copperheads scored with 13 minutes left to spoil Cochrane’s evening.
With 16 returning players from last year, the Generals boasts an experience-laden roster. Braden Bain, who is now playing college hockey in Michigan, was the sole player who aged out from junior hockey in 2018-19.
Having so many returning players means the chemistry is already established in the Generals' locker room, according to Jones.
“Really, they’re all one group – there’s not really one player that stands out,” he said. “The leadership group leads well, and they’ve already bonded.
“It’s great to step into a dressing room where everyone gets along and everyone has an expectation.”
Optimism for the group will be high this year, given Cochrane’s competitiveness in 2018-19.
Last year was a case of ‘almost’ for the Gens – the team’s 27-9-2 record in the regular season meant Cochrane finished third in the tightly fought HJHL south division. The team then found an extra gear in the playoffs, making it all the way to the division finals before bowing out in five games against Coaldale.
“Every game is a challenge for us, for sure,” Jones said. “There are no easy teams to play against in this league, and we just have to be ready to go every game.
“Our goal as a group is to work for 60 minutes. Work doesn’t just happen – you have to make it happen.”
The Generals will return to the ice for its first ‘three-in-three’ weekend Oct. 5 to 7, with back-to-back games against the High River Flyers and a battle against the Lomond Lakers.
For the Generals’ full schedule, visit heritagejunior.com
—With files from the Cochrane Eagle