This Cup's for you

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

STONY PLAIN -- Eagles head coach Craig Goebel calls their Allan Cup quest a team thing. And by team, he means the entire town of Stony Plain.

From the people cheering in the seats, to the organizing committee, to the people shivering outside, while keeping the hamburger stand and beer tent open for business, this Cup's for you.

"We have our own expectations as a team. We want to win it for each other," said Goebel, whose club puts its tournament life on the line in tonight's semifinal showdown against Lloydminster.

"But we also feel a little bit of pressure being the host and being from the community. We feel an obligation to all the volunteers and all the people who are working here.

"Everybody is working so hard to make this event happen, to make the off-ice part of it successful. We want to make the on-ice successful."

Friday night, packed house, the undefeated home team one win away from a berth in tomorrow's national championship final. So far, the Eagles' Allan Cup has been everything they'd hoped.

"I've played in a lot of national championships, but it's nice to be at home," said centre Russ Hewson, who won two CIAU titles with the U of A Golden Bears.

"I have family and friends in the area, so that makes this special. It's a little added pressure, but that crowd gives us a boost, too. I know in the last five minutes (against Shawinigan), they got us going and there was a pretty big roar when we scored the goal in overtime."

In recent history, hosts are running 50% - seven times in the last 14 years, the home team won the Allan Cup. The Eagles are 1-1, winning at Centennial Arena in 1999 and losing at home in 1995.

"We've been ready for this since September," said forward Rob Sklaruk, in his 15th season with the club.

"There's a pretty good mix here: young guys and older guys with a lot of experience. U of A guys, guys who played college hockey and some guys who've played pro. The pressure's not going to be a problem."

The temptation for a host team is to stack the roster, bring in hired help, sometimes at the expense of long-serving veterans, for that one glorious run. Stony Plain, for the most part, has resisted.

Nearly everyone on the team has been there at least two seasons, and most are in the six- to 10-year range.

"We had an obligation to the guys who have been here for a lot of years and were looking forward to this," said Goebel. "For a couple of guys, this is their swan song. This is it for them. We added a couple of pieces after losing in the playoffs last year, but we didn't want to go out and stack the team. It's the same guys who've been here all along."

This is it for Sklaruk. Going out on home ice, with a championship, is something the 38-year-old has been dreaming about all year, and would remember forever.

"When we won it here in '99 it was amazing,"he said. "It was crazy. Our goaltender, because it was his last game ever, took off his equipment and threw it into the stands. It was wild, lots of fun."

They're just two wins away from repeating that scene, but in a tournament this tight, two wins is a very big hill to climb. Brian Sutter's Bentley Generals are also undefeated.

So is Whitby, which came 1:47 away from beating the Eagles. In a single-game elimination playoff format, this event is too close to call.

"The two games we've played went right down to the wire," said Hewson. "And I don't expect it to be any different on Friday. That's the way she goes. That's the Allan Cup," said Goebel. "It's so close. But we've built for this day, and this week, hopefully, it'll all pan out."


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