Senior AAA team closing in on playoff berth after upset of first-place Brantford
By Mike Pearson, News staff
To watch the Stoney Creek Generals play right now, it’s tough to tell this expansion franchise was assembled in just six weeks.
After dropping some close games earlier this season, the Senior AAA Generals are learning how to win while inching closer to a coveted playoff spot.
“We’re really starting to gel right now,” said team president Tony Falasca. “We’re in a pretty good spot.”
Fresh off their biggest upset of the 2013-14 Allan Cup Hockey season, the Generals had more than enough left in the tank against the Norwood Vipers on Sunday night.
The Generals climbed one game above .500 with an 8-4 road win to move just five points out of first place with seven regular season games to play.
Heading into this week’s action, the Generals sat fourth in the six-team league, with a 10-point cushion over fifth-place Welland.
The top-four teams qualify for the playoffs and a potential berth in the Allan Cup championship to be played in Dundas this spring. As the tournament host, the Real McCoys receive an automatic entry. One other Allan Cup Hockey League team will qualify, and the Generals are surprisingly part of the conversation.
“At the start of the year, we were just happy to win a few games,” said Falasca. “We’ve totally surpassed what we expected.”
In a possible first round playoff preview, the Generals upset the first-place Brantford Blast 3-2 on Jan. 11. In their most complete road game of the season, the Generals outshot their opponents 32-22 and played solid defensive hockey. Nathan Pageau, Kyle McQuade and Jake Guindon scored for Stoney Creek and Swedish goaltender Daniel Svedin outdueled Brantford’s Brett Leggat.
After running into penalty trouble earlier in the season, the new-look Generals are a tougher, faster and more disciplined team right now. During Saturday’s win, the team killed off all three of its penalties and went one-for-three with the man advantage.
The Generals are flying high after winning three straight games.
Nathan Pageau, one of three Generals averaging more than a point per game this season, scored twice in Sunday’s victory. Matt Reynolds, Kyle Zettler, Kyle McQuade, Ryan Moore, Nikola Bibic and newcomer Sean Blanchard also scored for Stoney Creek.
Blanchard, 35, is one of several Generals who have international pro experience. He’s one of the team’s newest signings. A Sudbury native, Blanchard played CHL hockey with the Ottawa 67’s before stops in the American Hockey League, the East Coast Hockey League, the International Hockey League and professional stints in Italy, Switzerland and Germany. A defenseman, Blanchard is helping the Generals reduce their goals against in preparation for a playoff run. Team defence is a key area of concern, as the Generals have allowed 5.4 goals against per game.
With the addition of Blanchard, Falasca said the Generals now have seven solid blueliners on their roster.
Along with goaltender Svedin, the Generals have also signed 39-year-old Dennis Maxwell, who was once a prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Drafted in the eighth round of the 1992 NHL entry draft by Tampa Bay, the left winger played three seasons for the St. John’s Maple Leafs of the AHL, before moving on to the ECHL, the Elite Ice Hockey League of Great Britain and the North American Hockey League.
Matt Smith, another recent addition, led the Generals with a hat trick in their 5-2 win over Welland on Jan. 5, which started the team’s current win streak.
The Generals’ success on the ice has translated into more bang for the buck for sponsor Danny Trombetta of Grand River Natural Stone. Trombetta, who is also president of Gateway Ice Centre, is thrilled to see the team peaking at the right time this season.
“I’m really surprised that Tony (general manager) Dave (Hill) and (head coach) Dan (Caco) were able to put the team together so quickly for the first few games,” said Trombetta.
The Generals have drawn between 200 and 400 fans for most home games. Five of the team’s final six games will be played on home ice. Trombetta hopes residents of Stoney Creek and Hamilton will help boost the team’s attendance figures during the final regular season homestand.
Fans can watch games from the stands or enjoy the action while dining at Don Cherry’s Sports Grill, which features a panoramic view of the ice.
Stoney Creek will try for its fourth straight win on Saturday in Welland against the Whalers. Game time is 8:15 p.m.
The Generals return to home ice on Sunday, Jan. 26 to take on the Whitby Dunlops. Game time is 2:30 p.m. at Gateway Ice Centre.