Hockey: Okotoks hands number one ranked Brooks its third regulation loss
By Remy Greer, Okotoks Western Wheel
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The Okotoks Oilers passed their late season exam with flying colours.
The Oilers handed the Brooks Bandits just their third regulation loss of the season by holding off the number-one ranked Junior A team in Canada 3-2, Tuesday night at Pason Centennial Arena in Okotoks.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a surreal feeling right now. We just beat the number one team in the country,” said Oilers defenceman Tariq Hammond. “It sets an example that we can play with anyone, that we can beat anyone.”
The Bandits, the class of the Alberta Junior Hockey League with a record of 45-2-3 entering play, got off on the right foot in the pursuit of a fifth win in as many games with the Oilers this season. Rookie Californian Nick Newman was credited for the opening tally just 63 seconds into the game on a mad scramble in front of Okotoks goalie Keith Hamilton.
Undaunted, the hosts responded with dominant possession play for the majority of the opening frame and were finally rewarded when Hammond’s point shot on the man advantage found a hole through Brooks’ Devon Fordyce.
The Oilers then took the lead with just over five minutes left in the period when co-captain Robbie Fisher won a puck battle in front of the net and slid his team leading 21st goal of the season past the sprawling Bandit netminder.
Sophomore forward Braeden Salverda was Johnny-on-the-spot for the Oilers’ third marker after great work from linemate Spencer Kryckza to drive to the net and create the tap-in rebound, 5:17 into the second stanza.
Penalty troubles ensued for Okotoks in the middle frame and the best powerplay in Alberta proved its might when Brooks’ Taylor Makin roofed a backhand shot from the slot into the back of the net, cutting the lead to 3-2 with 23:30 remaining.
Brooks kept pushing after cutting the deficit in half, but neither team gained ground in a third period characterized by undisciplined play on both sides.
Makin was handed a double-minor for a pair of infractions on Okotoks’ Scott Bolland with six minutes on the clock, but the Oilers failed to capitalize on the four-minute powerplay. The Oilers then sealed the deal by killing off a key penalty to co-captain Greg Lamoureux in the final three minutes.
Hammond was named the player of the game in recognition of his third goal of the season and tireless work on the defensive end.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from the Oilers, however.
Oilers head coach James Poole said his team enforced their will through the first half of the game, but were a little too comfortable with the dreaded two-goal lead.
“The first 30 minutes we were dictating play, we were the aggressors, we were getting pucks deep and winning puck battles,” he said. “After it was 3-1 we got a little passive and took our foot off the gas.”
When mistakes were made Hamilton was there to bail the team out, noted Poole. The 20-year-old goalie only faced 20 shots, but many were of a high degree of difficulty.
Defeating Brooks for the first time this season gives the Oilers a major shot of confidence looking ahead to the post-season. The Oilers (28-17-4) now have at least one victory over every team in the South Division.
“We’ve had some close games with Brooks and walked out frustrated,” Poole said. “To finally get a result on them goes a long way in terms of team confidence.”
Okotoks, just four points back of Camrose for second in the South, can gain more ground on the Kodiaks on Friday when the Calgary Canucks pay the Oilers a visit (7 p.m., Pason Centennial Arena).
For more information on the team go to ww.okotoksoilers.ca.