Okotoks the hottest team in AJHL in 2013
By Remy Greer, Okotoks Western Wheel
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It’s the type of run that has supporters giddy over the prospects of post-season play.
The Oilers established themselves as the hottest team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) with a three-game sweep to remember last week. The Oilers handed the top Junior A team in Canada, the Brooks Bandits, a 3-2 loss on Feb. 5 and swept the weekend set with wins over the Calgary Canucks and Canmore Eagles on back-to-back nights.
“We’re really happy with the way our kids stepped up to the challenge of playing Brooks and I think it’s going to go a long way confidence wise,” said Oilers head coach James Poole. “On the weekend it was pretty easy to see the possibility of trap games with the Canucks and Canmore and it wasn’t our best hockey, but there were definitely some good efforts on the weekend.”
None more evident than co-captain Greg Lamoureux’s five-point turn, one goal and four helpers, in the Oilers 5-1 romp over the basement dwelling Canucks on Friday.
Scott Bolland, Chris Collins, Colton Sheen and Robert Hamilton also found the back of the net with Keith Hamilton stopping 24 of 25 Canuck shots.
It was more of the same from the Oilers on Saturday in Canmore, but this time in come-from-behind fashion. The Eagles built a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes before the Oilers stormed back with four answered goals in the final stanza to rescue the 5-2 road win.
Jared D’Amico stopped 30 pucks to earn his 18th win of the season. Lamoureux, Tariq Hammond, Connor Hartley, Robbie Fisher and Mitch Collett bulged the twine in the three-goal victory.
Robert Hamilton, a second-year blueliner and future University of Vermont Catamount, said the team proved its mettle by not playing down to the opposition on the weekend.
“We said before that good teams always beat the ones below them,” Hamilton said. “We had to step up and pick up a huge four points there and it got us right back in the race for second place, it was huge.”
As of Tuesday, the Oilers (30-17-4) trailed Camrose by four points for the elusive second seed in the South Division, but Okotoks holds the ace up their sleeves with three games in hand on the Kodiaks.
“We set a goal for the end of the year at 76 points. That’s what we feel we’ll need to get second place and we’re on pace for that right now,” Hamilton said. “As long as we keep winning and focusing on what we do it doesn’t matter what Camrose does.”
Team confidence on the green-and-gold to accomplish the feat is considerable for the Oilers.
“After sweeping a week like that it’s a huge boost and we’re looking to keep it rolling,” he added.
In a week of sorrow off the ice following the passing of Oilers vice-president Greg Wedderburn on Feb. 2, the team honoured one of the team’s founder with patches above the numbers on the back of the jerseys denoting “Forever An Oiler GW #9.” Wedderburn was an integral part of bringing the Oilers to Okotoks from Crowsnest Pass.
Poole said the Oiler family was only strengthened during the trying week for the organization.
“I think it made the players understand what goes on behind the scenes and a lot of appreciation for what Greg Wedderburn did for the organization and for the town of Okotoks,” Poole said. “It definitely brings us together more and adds that family approach to not just the team and players, but within the entire organization.”
The Oilers’ unity is leading to terrific results on the ice. With a record of 10-2-1-1 in 2013, Okotoks owns the best mark in the Alberta circuit during that timeframe. The Oilers’ goal differential of +25 this season is second only to the Bandits.
“We’re playing some good hockey right now, but I think there is still another level that we need to reach come playoff time,” Poole said. “That’s really the focus to try and get better each day and each week. If we do that the results should take care of themselves and put us in really good shape come March when we have to be at our best.”
It’s a favourable schedule going forward for the Oilers as seven of their final nine meetings are with sub .500 opposition. Okotoks played the Canucks again, this time at Max Bell Arena in Calgary on Feb. 13, but results were too late for press time.
The Oilers will not get any rest during the Family Day weekend with three games in four nights. The Olds Grizzlys pay Pason Centennial Arena a visit on Friday at 7 p.m. Okotoks then treks to Canmore for a second straight Saturday showdown in the Rockies and the Oilers close out the weekend with a rare Monday afternoon date with the Calgary Mustangs with puck drop at 4 p.m. in Okotoks.
“We have an easier schedule than the first part of the year,” Hamilton said. “We should be able to pick up a bunch of points here if we keep playing the way we have been.”
Collins earns league honours
It was only a matter of time before Chris Collins earned AJHL recognition.
The 20-year-old forward was awarded the AJHL player of the week honours for the period of Feb. 4 to 10 in which the veteran pivot registered one goal and seven points in three games.
The Calgary native is riding an eight-game point streak in which he’s registered eight goals and 18 points. Collins, the Oilers’ top scorer with 52 points on the campaign, has climbed all the way to seventh among AJHL scoring leaders.
For more information on the Oilers go to www.okotoksoilers.ca