OKOTOKS, AB (Mar. 10, 2023) — It wasn’t always pretty, but the Okotoks Oilers found a way to take a 3–2 win — and a 1–0 series lead — over the Camrose Kodiaks at Okotoks Centennial Arena on Friday night.
The Oilers struggled at times to find their groove late in the 2022–23 regular season, dropping their final four games and seven of their last nine heading into the playoffs. But they managed to win Game 1 of their AJHL South Division quarterfinal series against a resilient Kodiaks team that battled back from 1–0 and 2–1 deficits before falling 3–2 in the end.
Oilers captain Dean Spak (Calgary, AB) netted the game-winning goal with just 2:28 remaining in the third period, scooping up a loose puck at the side of the net and slinging it past Kodiaks goaltender Freddie Halyk. Ty Yoder (Tofield, AB) and Jace Moffatt (Cochrane, AB) picked up the helpers on Spak’s sixth career AJHL playoff goal.
Spak’s goal finally broke the tension that had been building inside Okotoks Centennial Arena since the opening faceoff. The two teams tiptoed through a scoreless first period before Sam Huck (Calgary, AB) set the tone for the final 40 minutes with a heavy hit right as the intermission buzzer sounded.
Zeth Kindrachuk (Calgary, AB) got the party started with a gorgeous end-to-end goal at the 6:50 mark of the second period, with Huck and Moffatt recording the helpers. But the Kodiaks managed to respond just over five minutes later in unorthodox fashion, with the puck taking what seemed like a half-dozen bounces on its way past Oilers goaltender Parker Sawka (Cochrane, AB). Alexander Bryson got the last touch on it, tying the game at one.
The Oilers received an early power-play opportunity in the third period and made the most of it, with — who else? — Huck taking a feed from Yoder and whistling a perfect wrister past Halyk to make it 2–1. Again, however, the Kodiaks wouldn’t go away: Nickolas de Beurs restored the tie once more at the 6:59 mark of the third with another tip-in goal on Sawka, who could only watch as the puck caromed across the goal line.
It took another wild bounce for the Oilers to seal the deal in the dying minutes of regulation time. Spak found the puck in a prime position at the side of the net after Yoder hit the glass behind the Camrose net with a heavy shot. The rubber disc returned to the frozen playing surface just in time for the Okotoks captain to chop it past a sprawling Halyk, who knocked the net off its pegs in a desperate yet fruitless attempt to make a game-saving stop.
Sawka made 19 saves on 21 shots faced for his second career AJHL playoff victory. Spak was named the game’s first star in recognition of his efforts, with Huck and Bryson rounding out the distinguished trio. Huck, Moffatt, and Yoder all recorded multiple points in the Game 1 victory.
The Oilers will look to extend their series lead to 2–0 when they return to action against the Kodiaks on Saturday evening. Opening puck-drop is slated for 7:00 p.m. MT at Okotoks Centennial Arena and on The Eagle 100.9 FM.
Recap: Mike Gould
Photo: Chad Goddard