Rookie class rising to the occasion

Oilers boasting strongest group of freshmen in years


By Remy Greer, Okotoks Western Wheel

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The Okotoks Oilers are in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the post-season and can thank their young guns for the enviable position.

The Oilers feature eight rookies as regulars in the lineup this season and boast the best class of freshmen in head coach James Poole’s tenure in Okotoks.

“It’s definitely the strongest in terms of players being able to step into the lineup and contribute, play in powerplay situations or the penalty kill and find ways to help us win games,” Poole said. “The rookie season in Junior is always a tough one for the majority of players. We’re really happy with how they have progressed in terms of confidence and being impact guys for us on a nightly basis.”

The Oilers were aggressive recruiters in preparation for the 2012-13 season and had to be given the number of players lost to graduation – including longtime stalwarts like defenceman Rhett Holland, forward Jon Turk and goalie Michael Tadjdeh.

“We’ve probably taken more 17-year-old players than we ever have, but we thought these guys were going to be really good players,” said Poole, who coached a number of the rookies at a Midget-aged showcase in Boston two years ago. “This year they are doing a great job and the future looks really bright.”

First-year forwards Colton Sheen, Mitch Collett, Mitch Amatto, John Edwardh, Tanner Ockey and freshman blueliners Stefan Danielson, Kyle Krabben and Drew Weich have certainly made their mark in year one in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).

The coaching staff has trusted the rookies right from the outset in all situations, a trial by fire by design for the first-year players knowing development stems from opportunity.

“We saw that if we we’re going to be successful this year the younger guys really had to develop,” Poole said.

“Knowing that in the long run with the development those guys get from getting ice-time early on in the season they’re going to be that much better players to be able to help us in the playoffs.”

The first-year players have taken the trust and run with it accounting for 36 of Okotoks’ 131 goals this season.

“It’s definitely developed me as a player getting that ice-time,” said Amatto, a product of the Calgary Flames AAA program. “They’re giving us rookies a fair chance that if we’re playing well they’re going to play us and as a rookie you play to be that day-to-day player and that’s what we’ve done.”

Edwardh leads the way among Oiler rookies offensively with 14 goals and 27 points and has already established himself as a top-six forward and fixture on the powerplay.

“It’s easier as a transition when you get lots of ice because you’re not as worried mentally on the ice,” Edwardh said. “We’re fortunate that there’s a rookie on the top-three lines. We’re getting the opportunity and it’s good that we’re capitalizing on it.”

Amatto, a fleet-footed forward who used his quick release to record eight goals and 12 points this season, said having seven players in the same position as him makes life a lot easier at the Junior level.

“It’s not like I’m isolated where I’m the only guy not getting ice-time or getting sad because that would be bad for the confidence,” Amatto said. “It’s good that there are other guys I can talk to if I’m feeling down.”

Weich — one of four graduates of the Calgary Buffaloes program along with Sheen, Krabben and Edwardh — said the rookies take pride in each other’s success.

“We all keep pushing each other and benefit from the other guys’ success and are happy when other guys talk to schools or score a big goal,” said Weich, a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity Academy. “We’re all pretty tight. All the rookies go to school or went back to upgrade so we’re all in class together, at lunch we’re together. Everyday we’re together.”

And if it all goes according to plan, the group will remain attached at the hip for a few more years in Okotoks.