Amid a five-game undefeated streak, the Cochrane Generals are changing gears.
Last week the Generals were told they would be moving into the Northern Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey League after the Ponoka Stampeders and Stettler Lightning took a year off the season.
Generals president Rick Richards said Ponoka and Stettler bowed out over COVID-related issues.
“They couldn’t get enough players and coaches,” he said.
Richards said the new schedule will be more demanding at times.
“Now we have some three-game weekends,” he said. “That will affect the boys.”
The need for players to be double vaccinated to play hasn’t hampered the Generals’ lineup, said Richards. Fans are also now required to show their vaccination records at the Cochrane Arena, but ticket takers said they still had 100 people, the usual number of spectators, for the Sept. 25 game.
The change to the HJHL north division will mean Cochrane will now play four games against teams in the Northern Division and two against Southern Division teams.
The Generals have gone undefeated in the regular season. Left winger Patrick Forde and Dean Olenyk are topping the HJHL in points and goals and Olenyk is leading in assists, while Generals goalie, Davyn LaRocke, holds the top save percentage in the league.
Assistant coach Erik Krigel said the team will need to adjust to the rougher style of the division.
“It’s going to be a little bit tougher division, I believe,” Krigel said. “It’s a more physical playing division. I think if we just continue with the way we are breeding our winning culture here, I think we will be ok. I think there are a couple teams that will be quite strong.”
Cochrane just came off a two-game weekend, downing Rocky Mountain House 9-0 in an away game on Sept. 25 and regrouping to beat the High River Flyers at home 5-4 on Sept. 26.
The Flyers came close to putting an end to the Generals winning streak Sunday afternoon at the Cochrane Arena. At the end of the second period the Generals had only netted three to the Flyers four goals, despite having a 37 to 11 shots on goal advantage.
Krigel said the players sat back too much in the first and second period and were coming off a late-night return from Rocky Mountain House.
“We thought the team was going to be an easy team to play against,” Krigel said. “They had an outstanding goaltender.”
High River goalie Hunter McInenly faced 52 shots in the game.
Connor Stephenson scored the game-winning goal with about seven-and-a-half minutes left in the third period. It was his second goal of the game.
“We didn’t really get the bounces we needed thoughout the game, but we pulled through in the third and got a couple of goals and that’s what counts,” he said.
Moving divisions hasn’t rattled the team’s confidence at all, Stephenson said.
“The North Division has a lot more competition we feel, but we are prepared and they should be afraid to face us,” he said.