By Remy Greer, Okotoks Western Wheel
The Okotoks Oilers kept on shooting and the levee finally broke.
The struggling Oilers’ offence opened the floodgates on a pair of North Division foes with 11 goals in two games on the weekend in a 6-1 romp over the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Oct. 26 and a 5-1 blowout of the Bonnyville Pontiacs the following night. Both games were at the Pason Centennial Arena in Okotoks.
“It’s absolutely huge, we’ve had some problems scoring goals in the last few weeks, it just hasn’t gone our way,” said Oilers forward Tanner Olstad. “We’ve had a couple of weeks of battling through the hardships and it’s paid off now and it’s starting to go our way.”
The Oilers shuffled their top two lines during the week and the move paid immediate dividends. Co-captains Greg Lamoureux and Robbie Fisher were centred by the relentless Connor Hartley and the trio potted three goals and two assists.
Olstad’s new line, featuring wingers Cody Michelle and Chris Collins, combined for four goals and 15 points in the two-game set.
“We had a great weekend, it was our first together and I think we come off each other pretty well,” Olstad said. “We’ve got speed, we’re playmaking and we’re going to the net, playing smart hockey and we know that if we work hard we will be rewarded.”
Okotoks’ much-maligned powerplay also got a shot of life this week. The Oilers found the back of the net on four of 15 chances, a statistic head coach James Poole attributed to simplification.
“Before we were kind of looking for certain plays or certain reads and focusing on what others teams were doing,” Poole said. “With the struggles we had, we just simplified it and have one unit that focuses on getting shots to the net with traffic and one unit that focusing on puck movement and player movement.
“Both are starting to get confidence and hopefully we can get better and better.”
At the other end of the ice, the Oilers couldn’t have asked for anything more from their netminders.
Keith Hamilton, acquired from the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League for future considerations on Oct. 23, stifled the Crusaders to win his Oilers debut in convincing fashion.
“The guys helped me out tonight, they played well, they were blocking shots and gave me great goal support,” Hamilton said. “They gave me lanes and outside shots in the beginning and that really helped.”
Poole was impressed with his newest addition, a goalie with Western Hockey League experience with the Portland Winterhawks and as the Victoria Royals’ starter last season.
“Keith looked solid and guys played with a lot of confidence in front of him,” Poole said. “His movement is very solid and he doesn’t have to overwork because he’s always in the right position and very calm.”
Jared D’Amico got the call versus the Pontiacs and appeared unbeatable before Bonnyville’s Ty Carey broke his shutout bid with just 2:18 left on the clock.
“The defence kept them wide, there weren’t a lot of shots from the middle,” D’Amico said. “We didn’t make any stupid mistakes.”
The 18-year-old goalie sits first in the league with a 1.77 goals against average and a sparkling .937 save percentage. D’Amico, who backed-up Michael Tadjdeh in the crease last season, said the consistent starts he’s earned this season has helped his game tremendously.
“I think it’s helping me put up these numbers too,” D’Amico said. “Last year I wouldn’t play for a couple weeks, then got put in and was expected to play well.
“When you’re playing two of every three games or back-to-back you can get that rhythm and get rolling.”
The Oilers’ current three-game winning streak has shot the team up the South Division standings. Okotoks (9-6-2) now sits third with 20 points and games in hand on all but two division foes.
Okotoks is off until Friday when they welcome the archrival Camrose Kodiaks to the Pason Centennial Arena at 7 p.m. The Oilers then travel to Calgary on Monday for their first meeting of the season with the Canucks and return to Okotoks to again host Camrose on Nov. 6.
For more information on the team go to www.okotoksoilers.ca.
The Okotoks Oilers are faced with an enviable problem, but one that has to be dealt with prior to the roster cut deadline of Dec. 1.
With the acquisition of Keith Hamilton, joining the ranks of second-year netminder Jared D’Amico and rookie Devin Green, both 18 years old, the Oilers now boast three goalies on the roster.
“We looked at the big picture and having two (1994-born goalies) is going to have to change,” Poole said. “Whether it’s now or at the end of the year, you’re not going to want to have two goalies coming back and both expecting to be number-one guys.”
Poole said he will be looking to address the issue in the short term, but wouldn’t specify which goalie could be the odd one out.
“We will look to do something as soon as possible here,” Poole said. “They all want to play and all three of them I’m sure have questions as to what’s going on.”
D’Amico said he’s not concerning himself with the scenario.
“Forget about all that stuff, just go out and play,” said D’Amico. “Whatever happens, happens it’s out of my control. I find if you try and do too much that’s when things go wrong.”
Hamilton echoed the sentiment, adding he can only worry about his on-ice performance.
“All I can do is focus on myself,” Hamilton said. “There are two other good goalies and I’ve still got to earn my spot no matter where I come from.”