Bisons sew up regular season title
Hockey: 7-3 win locks up home-ice advantage throughout playoffs
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013 06:00 am
The Okotoks Bisons won a sprint to clinch their marathon — a second consecutive regular season title.
The Bisons turned their 7-3 win over the desperate Banff Academy Bears into a track-meet, Friday in Okotoks, to cross the finish line well ahead of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) pack in 2012-13.
“(The Bears are) a young team so we just tried to use our speed wide,” said Bisons captain Chase Fallis, moments after registering a hat trick. “We just got lucky with odd-man rushes.”
The captain potted two power-play markers and a breakaway goal while linemates Dillon Loomer added two goals and three points and Jeremy Smith chipped in with three helpers as did puck-moving blueliner Kevan Mikkelsen. Spencer Samuel and Jordan Eddy added the other tallies. Tyler Hughes had a quiet night in goal, stopping 21 of 24 shots to pick up his 13th win of the season.
The four-goal victory coupled with a Red Deer Vipers loss earlier in the week ensured the Bisons (30-2-2-1) would finish with the top regular season record in the HJHL for a second straight year. However, manufacturing urgency against a Bears team scratching and clawing at a bid for the final playoff spot in the Southern Division was a challenge for the Bisons.
“We’re trying to take every game like we are fighting for a spot,” Fallis said. “We’re trying to work on all of our systems and get them ready before the playoffs.”
Rebounding from the toughest weekend of the season for the Bisons last week, in which the Cochrane Generals snapped Okotoks’ 29-game unbeaten streak followed by a 4-4 tie with the Blackfalds Wranglers, was important to the fourth-year pivot.
“We did alright tonight, it wasn’t our best game,” Fallis said. “But coming off a loss and a tie you don’t want to lose again. Hopefully this win will help us.”
Not everything came up roses for Okotoks on Friday as lingering concerns remain for the team brass in the coming weeks.
Bisons general manager Jay McFarlane was left underwhelmed with the performance, calling his team reactive to what the Bears were doing on the ice.
“With the amount of talent and depth that we have it should be a lot stronger game offensively,” he said. “And I thought we gave away a couple goals as well.”
One of the bright spots for Okotoks was the promising play of the newly formed scoring line anchored by Brodie Eisbrenner along with wingers Jordan Eddy and Spencer Samuel. The trio, all veterans of Junior A hockey, combined for two goals and five points in their debut as a line.
“You could see the potential. They have a lot of talent, a lot of speed,” McFarlane said. “We’re happy with the start of that group.”
Eddy is making his permanent return to the Bisons after missing most of the season due to work commitments.
“It was a little rough, the hands don’t work as well,” said Eddy, who’s been working in northern Alberta as a pipeline inspector. “Both Brodie and Spencer are fast and I’m quite slow, so they pick up the slack for me and they give me the puck in the slot.”
The 20-year-old forward, whose managed 14 goals and 21 points in just 12 games this season, will be available for most of March and April in anticipation of an extended run in the post-season.
Not that playoff success is being taken for granted in Big Rock country.
The general manager said he is concerned bad habits are creeping into the Bisons’ game with an eye on peaking for the post-season.
Okotoks has just three games left in the regular season and with a bye through the first-round could see weeks without game action.
“We’re still not even close to where we need to be if we’re talking playoffs,” he said. “The good news is we have lots of time left, but only three games so we have a lot of internal team meetings we need to go through now to get ready for the mental side of the game.”
The Bisons are back on the ice in Strathmore for a duel with the Wheatland Kings on Sunday. Okotoks closes its regular season home schedule on Friday Feb. 8 when the Medicine Hat Cubs come to town and wrap-up their schedule Feb. 10 in Banff.
For the latest scores go to www.okotoksbisons.com.