Bisons clinch South Division
Hockey: Okotoks earns first-round bye, extends unbeaten streak
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 06:00 am
The Okotoks Bisons have put another exclamation mark on a dominant regular season by clinching the division title with six games remaining on the docket.
The Bisons wrapped up the South Division regular season crown and a bye through the first-round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) season thanks to a 5-3 win over the Thrashers in Three Hills Friday and a gritty 7-3 triumph over the visiting High River Flyers on Sunday.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Bisons goalie Alex Bilton. “We don’t have to worry about making the playoffs or worry about where you are. You get home-ice to the finals and the thing with that is you just can’t take it for granted. We have to show up for every game.”
Both squads showed up for an all-out war in the foothills derby at the Murray Arena on Sunday.
Okotoks’ Spencer Samuel and High River’s Rolf Pettersen exchanged pleasantries in the opening frame and set the stage for a playoff-like atmosphere on the ice.
Dylan Boyd staked the Bisons to a 1-0 lead before Okotoks’ Ty Fehr doubled the advantage on a tap-in during the second period.
Flyer forward Steven Showalter then converted on a two-on-one shorthanded opportunity after accepting a perfect pass from Alex Pronchuk.
The back-and-forth middle frame included a highlight reel play as Bison sniper Jeremy Smith undressed a pair of Flyer defenders and roofed a backhand shot into the top corner.
Flyers enforcer Mitchel Gallagher then showed a scoring touch in returning it to a one-goal game heading into the third period.
Kevan Mikkelsen improved the Bisons’ advantage to 4-2 on a wicked snap shot early in the third period, but High River’s Tanner Franson answered right back for the resilient Flyers.
The Bisons took exception to the goal celebrations and used it to stoke their fire.
“When they scored their third they celebrated in front of our bench,” said Bison captain Chase Fallis. “That got all of us pumped and emotionally into it then Bilton made a huge save and we went down and scored two goals. It kind of deflated them.”
Fallis’ number one line with Smith and Dillon Loomer turned the game on its head with a shift for the ages. A turnover at the blueline allowed Loomer, the second leading scorer in the HJHL, time and space to bury a shot behind the High River netminder. Then Fallis won the subsequent faceoff, gained the zone and rifled a shot off the bar and in to make it 6-3 in front of a shell-shocked Flyer defence.
Dylan Griep added a late insurance marker to put the finishing touches on a 7-3 victory that was much tighter contested than the score would otherwise indicate.
“I thought we played really well and played with them straight up,” said Flyers head coach Murray Wegener. “I’m proud of the way we played and I think Okotoks has seen that we’re a pretty good team. We just need to find a way to pull one out against these kind of teams.”
Although the Bisons have wrapped up first in the South, they are in a position to control secure home-ice advantage all the way through the playoffs by winning the HJHL regular season title. Okotoks needs to earn just six points in its final six contests to lock up first overall.
The 21-year-old Fallis has been here before and knows there’s no resting on laurels in Junior B hockey no matter where you sit in the standings.
“We still have to come in every game like we’re fighting for a playoff spot,” Fallis said. “Nothing is going to come easy for us and we want to keep this streak going as long as we can. Hopefully all the way to provincials and westerns.”
The Bisons, riding a 29-game unbeaten streak, take their show on the road this weekend. Okotoks squares off with the Cochrane Generals on Saturday and then the Blackfalds Wranglers on Sunday.
The two-time defending league champions return to the friendly confines of Murray Arena on Jan. 25 when the Banff Academy Bears come to town.
For more information on the Bisons go to www.okotoksbisons.com.