CANMORE – The Canmore Eagles will have to address a critical need if the junior A hockey club’s No. 1 goaltender is sidelined for a lengthy period.
Matthew Malin is a key part of the Eagles core this season, but after he suffered a concussion Oct. 20 against the Grande Prairie Storm, the veteran goalkeeper's timeline to return is uncertain due to the sensitive nature of the injury.
An assessment will be made on Malin this week; however, as the club experiences early season struggles, its hand may be forced to explore trades and free agency sooner than later.
“We’re obviously going to have to,” said Eagles head coach and general manager Andrew Milne about bringing in a new veteran netminder. “We’ll get a chance to assess [Malin] this week, but we’re going to have to. It’s not fair to the guys not having veteran presence back there. … We built that team with that understanding in the back end, so we might have to address that if it’s going to be longer than we expect.”
Currently the Eagles are in 14th place in AJHL rankings, and sit in the basement for goals against with 79 (-41).
The 20-year-old Malin is 3-5-0-1, with a .893 save percentage (SV) and a 4.04 goals against average (GAA).
Eagles back-up, rookie John MacPherson has stepped in as the top goalie and has a 2-5-0-1 record, with a .863 SV and 4.81 GAA – worst in the league.
But the trouble in the back end isn't the only concern for the Eagles, which are also struggling to put pucks in net. The team is 14th in the league for goals for (38).
Milne said MacPherson is young and learning the process.
"We’re in a learning curve here," said Milne. “The timing of losing Malin is also, at the same time, we're having a tough time scoring so those two things are difficult."
Not shy to make a trade, the Eagles have kept busy with transactions this season.
In October, the team added forwards Ethan Look, Nathan MacPherson-Ridgewell and defenceman Nolan Kazeil, while sending forward Cole Wirun to Notre Dame Hounds of the SJHL. The team also cut defenceman Joshua Missfeldt.
At the end of September, the Eagles traded three players – Kaiden Billey, Luke Chase, and Hunter Burgeson – to teams in the SJHL for future considerations and signed forward Josh Hoekstra.
“We’re working every day to make our hockey club the best it can be and when situations like that arise, unfortunately, the business takes over,” said Milne. “We’re trying to put the right pieces together on sort of a daily thing here in junior hockey.”
Still, it was a “tough October” for the Eagles, which initially started the month 3-0, but then had an ugly 1-6-1 record to finish.
The team finished October with a 5-2 home loss to the Lloydminster Bobcats on Saturday (Oct. 28).
Eagles winger Haruki Morikawa said the team has to play a full 60 minutes moving forward.
“We came together in the [games] we played really well with high energy and keeping it simple,” said the 18-year-old forward who was raised in Banff. “I think with the right mindset, we can come back right away.”
The Eagles have back-to-back games in Fort McMurray this weekend (Nov. 4-5) against the Oil Barons as part of a three-game road swing.
The Eagles return home Nov. 10 against the Camrose Kodiaks.