2019 was an up and down season for the Sherwood Park Archers. Right from the beginning they had high hopes on a repeat. Most of the 2018 roster was coming back and they were adding a big pickup from the Bethel University Wildcats, Matt Paccagnan. On paper it looked like everything was going to be business as usual, until it wasn’t.
They started off the 2019 season with a quick exhibition win against the Spruce Grove Phantoms and the team felt ready to go on a run for a 2nd straight championship. Their first regular season game on April 28th was against their long time rival the Red Deer Reign. The rivalry runs long and deep between the two clubs. Many of these players had grown up playing up together and against each other, on teams like Team Alberta, Team Canada and Bethel University. Over the year’s players have moved from Red Deer to Edmonton and Edmonton to Red Deer. They are very familiar and equally passionate about besting the other side. The OT loss in the 2018 championship final has added another layer to this complicated relationship. The game went as expected, back and forth, back and forth. Trading goals for all 4 periods. Right down to the final minutes when Sherwood Park took an untimely penalty. Red Deer took advantage of the man advantage and tied the game. Next up: the shootout, anyone could win this now. Red Deer came out the victor, Archers lose 7-6 in a shoot-out, the Reigns feelings of revenge are somewhat satisfied after last year’s defeat.
So, after the first tough loss of the season, the Archers had to wait a week before they could bounce back against their next opponent, the Calgary Outlaws. The two met in Red Deer on Friday night on May 3rd and it was exactly the kind of game you would have expected, extremely rough, every puck along the boards or in the corners was contested, just a total grind for all 48 minutes. The teams traded shots and goals all game long. However, Calgary came out on top 11-10. The Archers were now sitting 0-2 and about to face their local rival the Edmonton Panthers.
The game against the Panthers was Monday May 6th. The Archers felt they had shaken off the rust and were ready to turn this season around. Another rough game, both teams came into the game 0-2 and this could have a major impact on the rest of their season. No one was going to give up any free plays. Edmonton took the lead 4-3 into the half. This was everyone’s worst nightmare; in 24 minutes the reigning champs were about to go 0-3 to start the season. Sherwood Park came out in the 3rd playing very scrappy, they were not going to let another odd man rush or scoring opportunity happen. They popped in 3 straight goals and with 2 minutes to go in the game the Archers had a 6-4 lead. Edmonton had their chances, but their young roster was still getting a handle on this pace of the game. The Archers would end the game with an empty netter and seal the win 7-4.
The game against Edmonton was to be the turning point on their season. They never lost another game the rest of the way. They continued to methodically climb up the standings as the other teams traded wins and losses. The Archers kept racking up wins and ended up finishing 1st in league standings with 25 points.
Into the Playoffs
In their first game Sherwood Park made easy work of the Spruce Grove Phantoms and that pretty much set the tone for SG’s first ever playoff run. Spruce dropped the next two games against Calgary and Red Deer in such spectacularly bad fashion that it served as more of a warmup for the 3 other teams in the tournament. Sherwood Park then played Red Deer next. With the teams trading wins with one another during the regular season, everyone expected another tough game coming from the third meeting between these two elite clubs. Red Deer took first blood in a high scoring fast paced game that saw them defeat the Archers 11-9. After that, all teams but Red Deer were up in the air. There would be one Semi-Final game to see who would be taking the final spot in the championship game as Red Deer snatched the bye into the final round.
Following the loss to Red Deer the Archers now had to change their focus from the Reign to the Outlaws, who have traveled up from Calgary and were determined not to leave this year empty handed. With the Outlaws already losing 9-5 to the Reign it was already decided that these two would face off against each other on Sunday morning. This game would be the warm-up to the elimination game, this would be the game that would set the pace and allow each team to get a feel for how hard the other team would be playing. Both teams started the game slow, neither wanting to give up the big play, both comfortable with a one goal game going into half-time, Archers leading 3-2. Outlaws changed the goalie at the beginning of the 3rd and thought the fresh legs would benefit them; and early on it did. Calgary wanted this game badly, they unleashed everything they had at the Archers, scoring 5 straight goals and halfway through the 3rd period they had a 7-3 lead. The Archers were not going to let this game slip away, they’ve been in worse situations this year. They started to attack methodically at the backup goalie, one goal after the other went in and before Calgary knew what was going on, they were headed into the 4th period down 9-7. That was it, no one was to score another goal in the next 12 minutes of regulation. Final score: Archers 9 and Outlaws 7.
With the round robin over, the standings shaped out as Red Deer in 1st with 3 wins, Sherwood Park in 2nd with 2 wins and 1 loss. Calgary in 3rd with 1 win and 2 close losses. The semi-final elimination game was set for Sunday morning. Calgary vs. Sherwood Park. Both teams were very ready to go.
it was now time for the rematch of the Archers and the Outlaws as they both looked to punch their ticket into the championship game to take on Red Deer. With both teams getting their looks at the other the game before, they had a chance to bring their best game forward while anticipating what changes the other was going to make. This game was hard fought as each team traded blows, but for Calgary they found themselves up against a red hot Ewen MacPherson and fell behind by a 4-goal deficit going into the 3rd period. Would they be able to dig deep and have a repeat performance of what happened in the previous game? They threw everything they could at the Archers but could not get that tying goal to get the game to OT. The Archers held off the fire power of the Outlaws and won 7-6. The Archers were absolutely exhausted from two impossibly tough games, once again earning the privilege of taking on their long-time rival, Red Deer, to retain the trophy and gain their second straight title in the pro league.
Before the game started both teams stood at the glass watching time tick on the clock, both teams with their eyes on the trophy. Every player eager to take the floor and get this game started and settle the dispute that had been going on all year: who was the best team in AB Pro Roller Hockey? Red Deer was especially excited, they had performed strong all year. This group was much improved over 2018’s squad and this seemed like their best opportunity to dethrone Sherwood Park from their championship title and prove to everyone that they can win when it means the most. They believed this was their chance to finally avenge last year’s heart-breaking overtime loss. Sherwood Park knew they were down 2 games to 1 in the season series but were going to approach this game as any other: play their game; control the puck; control the clock: and pick away one goal at a time. As the game started it seemed even as tired as the Archers were, they were still riding the exciting wave of momentum from their last two games. The tides now turned as they came out firing and get up to a quick 3 goal lead. Red Deer battled back and popped in two goals just before half-time. The Archers realized that if they let a rested Red Deer team back in it, they will not be able to hold them off in the 4th period. Red Deer scored first in the 3rd and this game was now all tied up. Everyone on Sherwood Park’s bench was starting to sweat a little more. They had to score more goals and quick, they needed to crush the Reign’s spirit to finish this game. Sherwood Park then found their opening and proceeded to score 3 goals in a row, and with Ewen MacPherson playing one of his best games all year, they felt nothing was going to stop them. The score was now 6-3 Sherwood Park. Red Deer was really digging hard now, realizing that it was slipping away and there was nothing they could do. After a few penalties by Red Deer both teams traded goals once more and the Archers took their second straight title with a 7-4 win. After almost being knocked into 5th place in the standings, two toss up games in a row against Calgary, what the team accomplished in 2019 was incredible. They climbed back to win it all for a 2nd straight year and are currently the only team with their name on the AB Pro Cup. With another important win over the Reign, the rivalry will continue to grow and it adds even more excitement to the 2020 season.