Okotoks sweeps away Oil Barons and Pontiacs on road-trip
By Remy Greer, Okotoks Western Wheel
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The Okotoks Oilers closed out their extensive overnight travel schedule with a road trip to remember.
The Oilers picked up back-to-back victories over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Bonnyville Pontiacs in a final jaunt to northern Alberta which came with its share of challenges.
It was a long and winding road for the Oilers just to make it to Fort McMurray for their Friday Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) match due to a closure of Highway 63 adding four hours to the commute.
“We encountered a lot of challenges on the way up there and I think we were on the bus for 12 or 13 hours,” said Oiler blueliner Tariq Hammond. “We got to the rink about half an hour before the game and had to get focused quickly.
“We tried to keep it simple in the first period to get the bus legs out.”
The Oilers held their own with the host Oil Barons through two periods with the home team’s Justin Fraser’s second period marker the only tally through 40 minutes.
The Oilers found a second wind in the final frame and recorded goals from Greg Lamoureux and rookie Tanner Ockey in just over a minute to take the 2-1 win much to the disappointment of the 1,600 fans in Fort McMurray,
“We just wanted to do it for the guys beside us,” Hammond said of the character win. “Our team motto this year has been mental toughness and we just kept that in the back of our minds and pushed through.
“It was really relieving for us to win there.”
If the win in Fort McMurray was rewarding, the triumph less than 24 hours later in Bonnyville was historic.
The 4-2 triumph on Saturday was the Oilers’ first victory in Bonnyville in franchise history.
“We went in with the same game plan to keep things simple,” Hammond said. “It was a really rough game to start out with. They’re big and fast and we held them down for the first two periods.”
Ockey was back to his old tricks and opened the scoring for the Oilers in Bonnyville, with the Calgarian’s second period goal the only tally through two periods.
A seesaw final frame ensued.
Bonnyville’s Locke Muller got the Pontiacs on the board, followed by a quick answer from Okotoks co-captain Robbie Fisher.
Pontiac Max Collins evened the tilt at 2-2 with just over 12 minutes remaining, but rookie Mitch Collett restored the one-goal advantage for Okotoks. Then Chris Collins, the Oilers’ leading scorer, buried an empty net-goal for his third point of the period to seal the 4-2 win.
“That game the travel really showed on us,” said Oilers head coach James Poole.
“We showed a lot of character in the third period when they did tie it up twice in a row we responded quickly. And defensively we were really solid closing out that game.”
With just 16 division games remaining, the Oilers finished with an impressive mark of 11-5-2 against the North Division this season, an eight-point improvement compared to last season.
“I think one of the main reasons is we have lots of depth on our team. We’re not just a one, two line team,” Hammond said of this year’s Oilers. “That helps out a lot energy-wise because we can get breaks and everyone is contributing.”
Of course, the playing field between the divisions also looks to have narrowed in 2012-13 as perennial powerhouses such as the Oil Barons and the Lloydminster Bobcats are mired in rebuilding seasons.
“The gap between the South and North is a little bit closer this year across the board,” Poole said. “With the North traditionally it’s a bit of a more physical style of play against those teams and this year we’ve handled it a lot better in terms of willingness to play through, to take hits and go into traffic areas and blocking shots.”
The Oilers’ habits right now are giving the head coach a strong sense of optimism as the season reaches its climax over the next six weeks.
“That’s why we have a positive mindset going towards the playoffs,” Poole said. “We’re starting to do the things we need to in order to be successful come playoff time.”
Okotoks returns home this weekend and will enjoy home cooking for 10 of its final 16 games.
Okotoks welcomes the Camrose Kodiaks to the Pason Centennial Arena on Saturday, but first must not fall into a trap-game with the struggling Calgary Mustangs the night prior.
Both tilts are 7 p.m. face-offs at Pason Centennial Arena.
The Oilers trail the Kodiaks by just one point for second in the South and hold a game in hand on their divisional foes.
“In the South Division they’re obviously four point games,” Poole said. “We’re in a tight race with Camrose and Drumheller is really close as well. Every point is going to be really critical down the stretch here and we want to make sure we don’t overlook the Mustangs game.
“Hopefully with the home schedule we can create some separation with us and the other two teams.”
For more information go to okotoksoilers.ca.