OKOTOKS, AB (Jan. 28, 2023) — It was 3–0.
The Okotoks Oilers came all the way back from a three-goal deficit in the final 13:14 of Saturday’s game and ultimately prevailed 4–3 over the Blackfalds Bulldogs at Okotoks Centennial Arena.
Affiliate forward Gavin Garland (Calgary, AB) scored twice to kickstart the rally before setting up the game-winning goal by Nolan Flint (Beaverlodge, AB). Conyr Hellyer (Okotoks, AB) added his team-leading 26th goal of the season along the way.
Garland entered Saturday’s action with just eight games and two points in the AJHL to his name. He looked like a veteran against the Bulldogs, lifting the home side out of the gutter with two goals just 1:23 apart en route to being named the game’s first star.
“The first and second periods were a little tough, but I know the boys just kept it positive in the room and that was just the whole goal on the bench, just to stay positive,” Garland said. “I think that helped the guys and we ended up getting the win in the end.”
The new-look trio of Garland, Dean Spak (Calgary, AB), and Brett Huxley (Calgary, AB) stuck together from the opening puck drop through to the final buzzer, although they did all of their damage in the third period. Even before Garland broke the ice, Spak rang a shot off the post after beating Blackalds goaltender Matthew Hennessey on a breakaway.
If you only watched the first 45 minutes of Saturday’s game, you might’ve come away thinking the Oilers belong closer to the bottom of the AJHL South Division standings. Blackfalds controlled the shots 10–5 in the opening frame, with Carter Patterson opening the scoring; Jason Siedem slipped the puck past Parker Sawka (Cochrane, AB) on a partial break late in the third to make it 2–0.
Even after the Oilers successfully killed off an extended 5-on-3 disadvantage early in the third period, Blackfalds forward Kody Willick rendered their effort largely moot with a goal that appeared, at the time, to be the dagger.
Well, forget that. Garland netted his first of the evening off a perfect feed from Huxley just 12 seconds after Willick made it 3–0. Huxley and Garland connected again at the 8:09 mark of the final frame to bring the Oilers back within one.
From there, the Oilers seized control of the momentum and fed off the suddenly raucous energy of the 1,007 in attendance at Okotoks Centennial Arena. When Hellyer tied the game with 3:03 left off a perfect centering feed from Sam Huck (Calgary, AB), the roar from the crowd might’ve been powerful enough to melt all the snow on the roof.
A go-ahead goal seemed inevitable after the Oilers drew even. It took only 56 seconds after Hellyer tied it at 3 for Flint to give the Oilers their first lead of the hockey game. After that, the responsibility largely fell upon Sawka and the defence to steer it home in the final 2:07 — and they did just that.
On top of being named the game’s first star, Garland earned the “Hardest Working Oiler” recognition from broadcasters Keegan Bartram and Mark Frank for his gutsy performance against Blackfalds. The Oilers improved to 31–15–1–2 on the year with the win and gained two points on the Brooks Bandits in the divisional standings.
By the time the Oilers return to action for their next game, it’ll already be February. They’ll hit the road to take on the Olds Grizzlys on Feb. 3 before returning home to take on the Camrose Kodiaks — victors against Brooks on Saturday — on Feb. 4.
Recap: Mike Gould
Photo: Chad Goddard