The Cochrane Generals gave the expansion Kainai Braves a harsh welcome to the Heritage Junior Hockey.
The Generals thumped the Braves 17-2 in both teams’ regular season opener Sept. 11 at the Cochrane Area.
“It’s not a game to evaluate your team on,” Generals head coach Kurtis Jones said of the blowout. “You come out with a win and that’s what counts.”
The Braves were playing their first game of the season, as it didn’t have the benefit of an exhibition season. The Generals were able to squeeze in four exhibition tilts with the Okotoks Bisons four times before the puck was dropped to start the regular season.
It showed as the Generals exploded for nine goals in the opening 20 minutes.
“We kind of packed it in in the second and third (period),” Jones said. “It’s hard when you are up by 10 goals to play so we kind of laid back.”
The Generals continue to be a work in progress.
Despite finalizing the team two weeks ago and half the roster made up of returning players, Cochrane held its own, splitting their four exhibition games with perennial power Bisons with two wins apiece.
“It’s a process,” Jones said of his team’s effort to gel and find its feet. “We had a team dinner last night and we are trying to get everybody bonding and coming together.”
Left-winger Patrick Forde scored five of the Generals’ season opener goals. Forde said it was good to get a win, but said the team still has some work to do.
“We are working out our wrinkles and I think we still have a few games left to smooth things out,” Forde said, adding the pre-season went well. “We got two (out of four). We had one go into overtime so I thought they were solid games and we will just keep getting better.”
The Generals were excited to be back on the ice following two disappointing seasons. In March 2020 the finals were cut short by COVID with the Generals in a 2-2 series deadlock with Okotoks, forcing the Generals to forego their title run. Growing COVID cases put a stop again in the fall three games into the 2020/2021 season.
Forde went through it all and said it was hard to see some players leave the team without finishing the playoff run but he said it is time to move on and take it all the way this season.
“Obviously, I just want to win a championship,” he said. “I think we got robbed a couple of years ago. We were six wins away. I thought last year we had another hell of a shot so that’s the ultimate goal.”
Braves head coach Colton Wells, said despite the loss, they are looking forward to their first season in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
“I know the score doesn’t tell it all,” Wells said. “We are very happy to be a part of this league.”
Braves goalie Ethan Pickles slowed Cochrane down in the second and third period letting in eight of the 46 shots he faced.
“The goalie was outstanding,” Wells said. “It was his first game ever in a junior hockey league so he did phenomenal tonight, despite the shots we had on us.”
The Kainai Nation, located south of Lethbridge, previously had a team in the Heritage Junior Hockey League. Kirby Wells, a player with the original Kainai team opened the game with drumming.
The game began with the more than 300 fans standing while players formed a unity circle acknowledging the hurt done to indigenous people through the residential school system and players from both teams used orange tape on their sticks in support of the Every Children Matters movement.
The Generals next three games will be away. Cochrane will be in Okotoks to take on the Bisons Sept. 17, in Strathmore Sept. 18 and then Rocky Mountain House Sept. 25. The next home game at the Cochrane Arena is Sept. 26 versus the High River Flyers.