Rookie Bisons hunt down Bears
Hockey: Four freshmen score in Okotoks' season opening win
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013 06:00 am
New faces in familiar places ensured the Okotoks Jr. B Bisons kicked off their season in the win column.
Led by four goals from rookies the Bisons came from behind to edge the Banff Bears 7-5 in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) curtain raiser, Friday night at Murray Arena in Okotoks.
“We got so many young guys and it was their first real game of Junior. I think it was just a lot of nerves in the first couple periods,” said Okotoks head coach Mike Hannigan whose club scored four in the final frame to steal the win. “We had nothing to lose; it was either we score or we’re losing this game and they came together.”
Trailing 4-3 after 40 minutes, the Bisons wasted no time getting the score even in the final stanza. Hometown rookie Hunter Young’s innocent wrist shot from the blueline trickled in to tie the game at four.
Fellow Okotokian Zak Johns gave the Bisons the lead when he won a puck battle at the left hashmark and wired a bullet over Banff netminder Michael Lenko.
Freshman winger Mark McLeod made it three straight tallies from hometown skaters when he jammed his own rebound into the yawning cage for what would hold up as the game winner.
“I toe-dragged it around the defenceman, drove to the net and it hit the goalie came back out and hit me and went back in the net,” said McLeod, a UFA Midget AAA Bison last season. “It was a big goal.
“There’s a lot of turnover from last year’s team so for all the new guys to come in and contribute is really good for the team.”
Banff’s Nebesky Richard would cut the deficit to one-goal before Okotoks’ Phil Dillon buried his second goal of the game for the much-needed insurance marker with 78 seconds on the clock.
“We just battled right through and didn’t quit when things went wrong, we just kept going,” said McLeod, skating on the first line with Dillon and Kevan Mikkelsen. “For the first game, it’s something to build on.”
Okotoks looked to have a strong foundation built in the opening frame.
Okotokian Harrison Smith cleaned up the garbage in front of the net and hacked in the puck to score on his first shift in Junior, just 71 seconds into the contest.
“I just crashed the net hard, swung around and hacked her. That’s the way to do it,” said Smith. “I was excited to get the monkey off my back, for sure.
“I felt comfortable out there, didn’t feel out of place and played a pretty good game.”
After Banff’s Oleg Losev leveled the score on an odd-man rush, Dillon repeated the feat when he faked the pass on a two-on-one and buried it. Rookie Luke Loomer doubled the lead with a powerplay marker before Banff got one back on the man-advantage through Nebesky.
The Bears controlled the middle stanza on tallies from Losev and JB Bedbury prior to the Bisons storming back in the third.
“We made too many detailed mistakes, but overall we came back and got the W,” Smith said. “There was lot of leadership on the bench, coaches talking, older guys talking, it got everyone excited to win the game.”
The season opener was far from a work of art from coach Hannigan’s vantage point, but growing pains are expected with such a young hockey club.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but the effort was there,” he said. “It was nice considering we got one rookie goal in exhibition, someone had to score eventually.”
Bryce Halverson got the start for Okotoks and was relieved halfway through the contest by Brayden Engel – as both netminders continue to battle for the back-up role behind starter Alex Bilton.
The Bisons have six days to prepare for what should be a barnburner in their next contest, a home date with the local rival High River Flyers on Friday, Sept 27. Puck-drop for the HJHL South Division showdown is 8 p.m. at the Murray Arena.
For more information on the Bisons log on to okotoksbisons.com