Bisons clash with Vipers for league title
Hockey: Okotoks in search of HJHL three-peat versus Red Deer
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 10:48 pm
HJHL finals schedule
Game 1: Red Deer at Okotoks; March 22. 8 p.m. at Murray Arena.
Game 2: Okotoks at Red Deer; March 23. 8 p.m. at Red Deer Arena.
Game 3: Red Deer at Okotoks; March 25. 8 p.m. at Murray Arena.
*Game 4: Okotoks at Red Deer, March 27 8 p.m. at Red Deer Arena
*Game 5: Red Deer at Okotoks, March 28 8 p.m. at Murray Arena.
Rest or rust?
While the Okotoks Bisons sat idle for four days after sweeping the Medicine Hat Cubs to advance to the league final, the Red Deer Vipers completed a comeback of historic proportions in fighting off a 3-0 series deficit to defeat the Blackfalds Wranglers in seven games.
Which of the two teams holds the advantage in the best-of-five Heritage Junior Hockey League final is up for debate.
Bisons general manager Jay McFarlane is choosing to view the situation as advantage Okotoks.
“It’s great to watch playoff hockey when you’ve got a team down 3-0 and they’re able to battle back,” McFarlane said. “You can look at that a couple different ways. Are they satisfied with what they’ve done, are they spent? Or are they on a roll?”
Red Deer head coach Stephen Pattison said his club should enter the final with considerable momentum after eclipsing their hated rival Blackfalds in such dramatic fashion.
“There’s two ways it’s going to happen,” Pattison said. “We’re either going to continue with it or it’s going to be a big drop for the first couple games because we’re both going to provincials. It’s up to the guys as a collective group.”
Pattison said his shutdown fourth line of Colten Brule, Nathan Dennis and Colton Weseen have been crucial in the playoffs. On offence, captain Braden Corbett and forwards Cole DeGraaf and Jeffery Kohut have been offensive catalysts for Red Deer.
“I told our boys we have to take it shift in, shift out and we broke it down into 12 periods,” Pattison said about the four-win comeback. “Whether or not it will carry over into this next series I hope it does, but you never know.”
Okotoks advanced to its third straight championship series after dispatching the Medicine Hat Cubs in four games to win the South. Other than Michael Savage, who remains doubtful with an upper body injury, the team is largely healthy and has been recuperating from postseason bumps and bruises.
“We’re going to give (Red Deer) a few days to digest that because we’ve been waiting,” McFarlane added. “I look at it as a positive for us. Everyone is healthy with the exception of Savage.”
As league finalists, both the Vipers and Bisons have already earned a berth into the Junior B provincials in Wainwright, but that should do little to dampen the intensity of the best-of-five tilt.
Okotoks won the season series 2-0, earning a 7-6 road victory and a 7-2 rout on home ice. With just two meetings this season, the Vipers remain a largely unknown commodity to Okotoks.
“We’ve only seen them twice this year so it’s difficult,” McFarlane said. “For us we’ve said it all along that most games are lost not won, meaning that we control our destiny. With the depth and roster we have, it’s up to us to decide how we finish.”
The Bisons handed the Vipers their first regulation loss in the regular season, something the Red Deer bench boss hasn’t forgot.
“I think we’re going to match-up well. I believe Okotoks has much more experience, they’ve got an older team which will definitely help,” Pattison said. “It’s going to come down to having a line or two that can shutdown their offensive lines and our offensive lines have to be able to produce.”
A balanced scoring attack has been at the centre of the Bisons’ perfect run of 8-0 through the post-season. The dynamic top unit of Dillon Loomer, Chase Fallis and Jeremy Smith has been backed up by explosive play from top-10 playoff scorers Jordan Eddy and Phil Dillon, along with contributions from the likes of Brodie Eisbrenner, Zak Johns, Ty Fehr and Zach Baba.
“If you’re relying on one line only to put the puck in the net then that’s an easy coaching strategy for the opponent to target and eliminate and then you’re without scoring,” McFarlane said. “Our depth as it was last year is going to be the key.”
The Vipers and Bisons last playoff meeting was at the 2006 championships, a series the Bisons swept in three games. Red Deer had the last laugh as they went on to win the provincial and Keystone Cup banner that year.
For more information go to www.okotoksbisons.com.