Prospects put best skate forward
Hockey: Hope springs eternal at Okotoks Oilers camp
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 06:00 am
A Blackie defenceman has been coming to Okotoks Junior A Oilers games for years, but never in uniform.
Seventeen-year-old blueliner Zach Fowles grew up a fan of the Alberta Junior Hockey League franchise and this week was one of 40 players vying for a roster position at the Oilers’ main camp, Aug. 21-22 at Pason Centennial Arena.
“It’s cool because you watch the guys going through this same process,” said Fowles. “I came to the camp last year and watched a lot of it. Yeah, it’s pretty cool to be out there competing for a spot.”
Fowles played house league in his native Blackie until Peewee then laced up for the Foothills Bisons and Okotoks Bantam AAA Oilers prior to finding a home with the Edge School Mountaineers.
“It’s been pretty good so far, I’m getting used to it every day,” Fowles said after main camp on Thursday. “(I wanted) to just show that I have what it takes and showcase my skills to the best of my ability.”
The six-foot-two, 200-pound blueliner’s calling card is a physical presence, but with 15 goals and 33 points in 46 games with the Mountaineers last season, he brings some offensive flair to the ice as well.
Fowles is a familiar asset to new Oilers assistant coach Tyler Deis, the blueliner’s bench boss during the past two seasons with the Edge prep team.
“It’s a good relationship,” Fowles said. “He’s really good at communicating with his players. Nothing but good things to say about him.”
Joining Fowles at camp were a trio of Okotoks prospects in forwards Matt Forchuk, Connor Tudor and rearguard Jaret Bordt.
Forchuk has been through the training camp wringer with his hometown club for a couple seasons, but this go around was a little unique.
“Having that one game that I played with them and practices makes me a lot more comfortable,” said Forchuk, who suited up for the Oilers as an affiliate player last January. “Now it’s competing for a spot so I’ve got to have that extra jump and finish all the chances that you have.
“It’s what I want and I feel like I can make the jump to Junior A.”
On the heels of a solid rookie campaign with the UFA Midget AAA Bisons and a summer of physical growth, the 17-year-old centre is more ready than ever for the Junior level.
“I feel stronger and faster and feel like I’ve grown mentally as a player,” said Forchuk, who added a couple inches and 15 pounds to his frame since spring camp. “I grew quite a bit over the summer. Everyone was surprised when I got to camp. They said ‘oh man you grew.’
“When vets come and hit me I can take the hit from the bigger guys and can battle in the corners and come out with the puck.”
Okotoks head coach James Poole said there were few surprises from his veterans at the mid-week camp.
“Jared D’Amico looks really solid,” he said of his top goaltender. “On defence we’re really excited about our backend, that’s definitely a strength of our team. Up front, there’s a couple younger players that had good camps and some of our veterans were off and on throughout camp.”
The coach credited three prospects in particular for helping their stock with strong showings during the two days worth of scrimmages including Calgarian Taylor Allan and Saskatchewan products Rhett Gardner, a rangy forward out of Moose Jaw, and Tisdale Trojan blueliner Kyle Bird.
“There’s a number of other young players that put themselves in a good spot that we’re going to have to watch closely,” Poole said. “But those three definitely stood out and shown that they’re ready to play this year.”
Allan, the captain of the Calgary Midget AAA Royals last season, said he’s now a seasoned veteran at Junior training camps.
“They just look for good habits on the ice and the way you carry yourself off the ice as well, but mostly your awareness and how you can work with other players you don’t really know,” said Allan. “And there’s the hockey sense factor of how well you can play the game and character comes in a lot too.”
As the 11th-leading scorer in Alberta Midget Hockey League in 2012-13 with 17 goals and 34 points, he brings skill and size to the right-wing position.
“I think I can step in right away and be a key contributor and play whatever role they need me to play,” said Allan. “I believe I can do great things here and help the team win.”
The Oilers’ pre-season four-team tournament goes Aug. 29 to Aug. 31 at Pason Centennial Arena. Okotoks plays the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Aug. 29 at 7:45 p.m., squares-off with the Camrose Kodiaks at 5 p.m. on Aug. 30 and closes tournament play on Aug. 31 at 7:45 p.m. versus the defending RBC Cup champion Brooks Bandits.
For ticket information call 403-995-2255 or log on to okotoksoilers.ca