Okotokians reunite for Canucks' playoff run
Hockey: Joel Paiement, Cory Kapeller and Sam Prpich on Calgary roster
Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012 06:00 am
Three 20-year-old Okotokians in their final season of Junior eligibility have been reunited on an upstart Alberta Junior Hockey League team poised for a playoff run after notching a shocking upset in their first-round series.
Okotoks residents Joel Paiement, Cory Kapeller and Sam Prpich were key cogs to the Calgary Canucks' 3-1 series victory over the Camrose Kodiaks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League's (AJHL) South quarterfinals.
They are embracing the underdog status as they prepare to faceoff with the regular season champion Brooks Bandits in the second round.
Few picked the sixth-seeded Canucks (19-36-5) to go deep in the playoffs, especially when they were facing a Kodiaks team without a first-round exit in franchise history. Despite the odds stacked against them Calgary entered the postseason feeling confident, said Paiement, the Canucks captain.
“From the beginning of the season… I've just been telling the guys ‘let's just get to playoffs and everything changes',” Paiement said. “We came together the last two games of the season and everything meshed together and molded into something that worked.
“Our first win against Camrose we ended up getting the win and guys got confidence and then we just ended up playing really well throughout that whole series.”
Prpich, who joined the Canucks on Jan. 7 after being asked to be moved closer to home from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Neepawa Natives, said the team's self-belief was a big reason for the ousting of the heavily favoured Kodiaks.
“We all thought we were going to beat them and just that mind set throughout the whole series was a major factor,” Prpich said. “We didn't give up, even when the refs or penalties got in the way we didn't let it get in the way and just kept on going the whole series.”
Prpich and Paiement, friends since Grade 3 and fellow graduates of Holy Trinity Academy in Okotoks, along with Kapeller who the two have known since their Peewee hockey days, were thrilled to be reunited for the first time since their final season of Midget hockey with the UFA Midget AAA Bisons.
“He's a good captain and to play with one of my best friends is awesome,” Prpich said of Paiement. “He leads by example on and off the ice… he's a great, great leader.”
Paiement said he was glad to have Prpich's wish of playing Junior hockey close to the foothills area fulfilled.
“He was out in Manitoba and wanted to come closer to home so his mom and dad could watch him play and to have him on our team I was happy to see him back,” Paiement said. “He adds grit and he adds size and speed up front.”
As the rookie-laden Canucks prepare for a test with the AJHL's regular season's top dogs in the Bandits (47-7-6) in the second round they will be looking for leadership from the 20-year-old Paiement.
“Guys are liking the way we're playing and we're pretty confident going in against Brooks,” Paiement said. “We know they're a really good team, but like we saw in the first round anything can happen and underdogs can always win.”
Kapeller, an assistant captain and third year Canuck, said the Okotoks residents are motivated to extend their Junior hockey careers as far as possible.
“It's definitely exciting, you know that you're playing for good friends too when you're out on the ice and want to win so their streaks (in Junior hockey) get to continue too,” Kapeller said.
The Bandits and Canucks opened their best-out-of-seven series on March 6 in Brooks, but results were too late for press time. Game 2 goes today, March 7 in Brooks, with the series returning to Calgary's Max Bell Arena on March 9 and March 10. Both Canucks' home dates are 7:30 p.m. starts.