Bisons grind out playoff opening win
Hockey: Okotoks takes 1-0 series lead on Cochrane
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 06:00 am
The Okotoks Bisons shrugged some considerable rust to shake off a familiar foe in their playoff opener.
Okotoks fought off a tough start for a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over the Cochrane Generals Sunday at Okotoks’ Murray Arena to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) second round playoff series.
Cochrane entered the series with momentum having advanced through the first-round whereas the top-seeded Bisons were idle with a first-round bye.
“They had the advantage having three playoff games already under their belt and we hadn’t seen playoff hockey since last year,” said Bisons head coach Mike Hannigan. “Having two and a half to three weeks off didn’t help us. There was a lot of rust.”
The Generals took the play to Okotoks for most of the opening frame. Cochrane native Taylor House got the visitors on the board with a powerplay marker 12:09 into the contest.
Undaunted by the early deficit, Okotoks peppered General netminder Matt Shawchuk shift-after-shift. The persistence finally paid off when Bison sniper Jeremy Smith snapped a shot off the post and in with just over six minutes left in the middle frame.
“I just capitalized on a turnover there and tried to get a quick shot on just to get something going,” Smith said of his tally. “It gave us some energy. We were playing well, but it was flat. We didn’t have anything to be excited about. It kind of lifted everybody up and we got going.”
With 26 seconds left in the second period, Hannigan sent out his first line and the trio rewarded the coach’s confidence. Smith sent in linemate Dillon Loomer on a partial break and the Bisons’ leading scorer executed a forehand-backhand deke and slid the puck between Shawchuk’s pads for the eventual game-winner.
The third period saw the Bisons bottle the Generals up in their own zone, holding the visitors to just five shots. After Shawchuk was pulled for the extra-man in the final minute, Loomer found the puck at centre ice and buried the empty-net goal to put an exclamation point on the 3-1 victory.
Generals head coach Ken Soloski said his players simply ran out of gas after playing less than 18 hours earlier in Strathmore, the deciding game in the opening round best-of-three series with the Wheatkings.
“We played a great first period. We were up 1-0 and, you know what, fatigue set in a little bit and they took advantage of us being a little tired and them being rested,” Soloski said. “It was a very close game so I was very proud of the way our boys played.”
The Generals, who snapped the Bisons’ unbeaten streak at 29 games on Jan. 19, are a confident group against Okotoks and far from in awe of the South Division kingpins.
“We have confidence we can play and I think that’s because they are the best,” Soloski said. “We come out and we play them hard and we have all year.”
The Okotoks coach said he expects nothing less from Cochrane, whom the Bisons defeated in the last two South finals en route to consecutive league championships.
“I think it will be tight all the way through,” Hannigan said. “They’ve got a lot of speed and have some guys that can finish.”
The series features an unusual home-away-home format. Game 2 of the series is tonight, Feb. 27, at the Spray Lakes Sawmill Recreation Centre in Cochrane. The series switches back to Okotoks’ Murray Arena on Friday evening at 8 p.m., followed by Game 4 at the same time Saturday in Cochrane. If necessary, Game 5 is Sunday at 1:15 p.m. in Okotoks.