Contributed By: Sean Emmett – Sun Country 99.7FM/High River Online
Photo Courtesy of: Allen Gimblett/Dynamic Photography
February continues to be a strong month for the Okotoks Oilers, as they finish up a long weekend flurry winning two of three games, and came away with a handful of AJHL Award nominations.
Prior to Friday night's game in Camrose, their first of the week, the Oilers received a moral boost as the AJHL announced its year-end award nominations on Thursday night and Friday morning.
To no one's surprise, stand-out netminder Nic Renyard landed himself a pair of nominations, earning the nod for League's Most Valuable Player and Top Goaltender, and remains a front runner to win both.
Renyard will battle it out with Austin Plevy (Brooks Bandits), Jetlan Houcher (Fort McMurray Oil Barons) and Jarid Hauptman (Spruce Grove Saints) for the MVP award, while it's Tommy Nixon (Sherwood Park Crusaders), Zach Fortin (Oil Barons) and Devin McDonald (Camrose Kodiaks) standing in his way for the Top Goalie award.
Since joining the team seven games into the regular season, Renyard has put up a 29-7-3 record, tying Brad Eidsness for the Oilers' record with 29 wins in a season, and broke Eidsness' shutout record, notching 5 so far in the campaign.
Captain Tanner Ockey, who's currently playing the best hockey of his AJHL career, was named a finalist for the Most Dedicated Player Award, alongside Mitch Vanderlaan (Oil Barons), Parker Mackay (Saints), and Connor Wilson (Canmore Eagles). The Colorado College commit is enjoying a breakout season, as he's tied for second place on the team in goals (17) and points (41), and is in the midst of an 8 game point streak, scoring seven goals and six assists in that span.
Oilers' standout rookie Trey deGraaf's freshman season hasn't gone unnoticed either, as he finds himself going up against Brinson Pasichnuk (Bonnyville Pontiacs), Brandon Biro (Saints), and Kodi Shwarz (Olds Grizzlys) for Rookie of the Year honours. The former Red Deer Optimist Chief currently has 17 goals on the season, good enough for a second on the team, a spot he shares with Ockey.
Rounding out the nominations is Head Coach James Poole, a Coach of the Year finalist, along with Rick Swan (Pontiacs), Jason McKee (Saints), and Boris Rybalka (Kodiaks). Losing six of seven games to start the season, Poole has guided the Oilers to a 35-15-5 record and (at least) a third place finish in the AJHL South.
The AJHL Awards will be announced during the last week of the regular season.
The Oilers unfortunately weren't able to translate the five nominations into immediate success, as they fell 2-1 to the Kodiaks in Camrose on Friday night.
Nic Renyard put forth a valiant effort, stopping 35 of 37 shots sent his way, but the Oilers had a tough time solving Devin McDonald, and were outshout 14-6 in the third period.
Rhett Gardner assisted on the lone goal of the game for the green and gold by Tanner Ockey, extending both player's point streaks to six games.
It was the first loss against the Kodiaks this season for the Oilers, as they were a perfect 4-0 on the season against the South's top team heading into Friday's game.
The squad looked to shake off the loss as they headed home Saturday night for another pivotal South Division match-up against the rival Drumheller Dragons, looking to put even more space between the two for third and fourth place in the South.
There was no love lost between the two teams, even on Valentine's Day, as it was a classic Oilers/Dragons nail-biter, with Okotoks hanging on for the 5-4 win.
The Dragons grabbed the early lead on a Brody Vallette goal just 1:30 in, but Eric Krienke and Tanner Ockey responded on two late power plays to make it 2-1.
In the second frame, Stephen Doane would go on to score an even strength goal to make it 3-1 , and a power-play goal after Jacob Schofield answered for the Dragons, while Matt McNair scored his first shorthanded goal of the season, giving the Oilers a 4-2 lead heading into the third.
It was another tough third period for the Oilers, as they were out-shot 16-5 by the Dragons, and Dakota Zaharichuk and Schofield, with his second of the game, would make it close, but the Oilers hung on for the win.
Ockey finished with a goal and an assist, while Rhett Gardner notched two assists, extending both forward's point streaks to seven games.
Nic Renyard finished with 30 saves for his 29th win of the season, tying the Oilers' record for wins in a season set by Brad Eidsness in 2007/2008. Earlier this month, Renyard set the team record for shutouts in a season with five, one more than the previous record, also set by Eidsness, in 2006/2007.
The win put a 10 point gap between the Oilers and Dragons in the standings, meaning the Oilers needed just one point, or a Drumheller regulation loss to clinch at least third place in the AJHL South.
Despite the loss on Friday night, the Okotoks Oilers received an honourable mention in the CJHL's weekly power rankings for the second week in a row.
The Oilers ended their 'week' with a Family Day matinee match-up against a last place Calgary Canucks team who are scrambling for their playoff lives.
Although the Oilers have historically had some troubles with the Canucks, they were firing on all cylinders on the holiday Monday, easily handling the Calgary club 6-1.
Kevin Jenkin led the way for the Oilers with two goals and an assist, while Eric Krienke notched 3 assists. Stephen Doane netted his third goal in two games, with Rhett Gardner and Tanner Ockey (2) rounded out the scoring.
Ockey and Gardner now both have 13 points during their eight game point streaks, and have the longest streaks in the league behind Olds' Ty Mappin, who has points in nine straight.
Riley Morris made the most of a rare start, making 23 stops for his fifth win of the season, with Nic Renyard earning some much deserved rest.
With just five games left in the regular season, the Oilers have clinched at least third place in the South, and sit seven points back of the Brooks Bandits for second place, with a game in hand.
The Oilers have a bit of rest this week, before two pivotal match-ups this weekend. They'll first head to Olds on Friday night to take on the Grizzlys, then head home Saturday night for a grudge match against the Camrose Kodiaks.