Provincial champs kickstart repeat bid
Hockey: Okotoks Jr. B Bisons training camp goes Aug. 29 - Sept. 5
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 06:00 am
The reigning provincial Junior B hockey champions have a tough act to follow on the ice and it will be a much different act back for the encore performance.
The 2012-2013 Okotoks Jr. B Bisons will feature just 11 eligible returnees from last season, which helped the franchise win its first provincial title.
However, the most difficult question at training camp will be what to do with a number of veterans back in camp. About 10 overage players will be competing for the maximum of four coveted spots.
“We’re facing, it looks like, 10 21-year-olds so we’re having to cut six of those,” said Bisons general manager Jay McFarlane. “We’re cutting the team in half which is not unusual.
“What is unusual is the amount of overage players we have to deal with. There are some big shoes to fill once those decisions are made.”
Okotoks’ training camp, Aug. 29 to Sept. 5 at the Piper Arena, should feature a dichotomy of veteran players competing for limited spots while young players seize the opportunity to play themselves onto the squad.
“Inevitably we’re going to lose – possibly in all positions, but certainly both in the D and forwards – key guys that we may not be able to recover from in terms of this year,” McFarlane said. “There’s definitely positions available on both ends.”
Okotoks Midget AA Oilers graduates Hunter Young and Harrison Smith as well as second-year Midget Jaret Bordt will be among those vying for spots.
The potential overagers on the roster include veteran netminder Tyler Hughes, top scorers Dillon Loomer, Phil Dillon, Jordan Eddy, Brodie Eisbrenner as well as blueliners Matt Howatt, Kevan Mikkelsen, Michael Savage, Dylan Griep and Eddie Tracy. Fellow 1992-born skaters Spencer Samuel and Joel van der Velden are not expected to report to camp.
“A lot of our 21-year-olds could possibly be on the defensive side,” McFarlane said of the biggest needs this year. “It depends upon the decisions we make with the returning players in terms of the gaps we need to fill.”
Goaltending could also be a question mark with Alex Bilton currently skating with the Calgary Jr. A Mustangs.
There’s a considerable leadership void needing filled for the herd as Wall-of-Famer and longtime captain Chase Fallis as well as alternates Ty Fehr and Zach Baba were lost to graduation along with leading scorer and MVP Jordan Smith.
Given the roster turnover it’s been a busy summer of recruitment, an effort certainly buoyed by the reputation of the Junior B franchise, fresh off its third consecutive Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) title and first provincial championship.
Moreover, the dissolution of the Strathmore Wheatland Kings from the HJHL for the upcoming season has left a flood of free agents looking for a new home.
“The search will continue. Normally after camp you see the late releases from Junior A, so we’ll be tweaking this (roster) for a while,” the GM said. “But I remain optimistic.
“Every year it seems like it’s a possible rebuilding (season). Losing 10 or more players, but we’ve got a lot of momentum from our success over the last three years to assist us in our recruitment efforts.”
For more information on the Okotoks Bisons go to okotoksbisons.com.