Fresh start for Bantam AAA program
Hockey: New name, coaching staff and identity being forged
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 02, 2013 06:00 am
Out with the old and in with the new is the mantra for Bantam AAA hockey in the foothills.
The Rocky Mountain Raiders, formerly known as the Okotoks AAA Oilers, have undergone a substantial change in identity extending far beyond the team’s new logo and moniker.
“New identity, new jerseys, new coaching staff with a lot of returning players,” said first-year Raiders head coach Mickey Kluner. “We’re trying to create a new culture and the team is buying into that.
“The expectations are high, which comes from our coaching staff, and they’re meeting expectations right now.”
The proof is in the pudding.
With a record of 2-1-1 in the early stages of Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) play, the Raiders have already won more games than all of last year.
The AAA Oilers were a development club that helped push the careers of several marquee Juniors including Okotoks Jr. A Oiler netminder Jared D’Amico and Western Hockey League veterans Conner Bleackley, Aaron Macklin and Blair Oneschuk, among many others.
However, wins proved hard to come by for the Oil. Okotoks finished at the bottom of the Challenger South Division for five years straight.
“You can’t just have an average practice and go to a game and start doing the right things,” said Kluner, a two-time AMBHL coach of the year with the Calgary Royals. “So practices are higher intensity than I think this team is used to in the past.
“Having seven returning players they know what last year was about and now this year they can reflect on that and know what they need to change.”
The returnees are netminder Isaiah Betinol, forwards Kade Nagy, Dylan Prpich, Nolan Steer, Riley Romashenko as well as blueliners Brendon Borbely and Dakota Krebs.
Betinol said the culture change on the squad is palpable.
“New look, new season, new coach, everything’s changed. Nothing is really the same from last year,” Betinol said. “Going into games this year knowing you can win night in night out is definitely a good feeling.”
Kluner has implemented a structured, defense-first philosophy on the ice, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the last line of defence.
“We’re really sound in our own zone. Through the two games I’ve played already I haven’t got very many back-doors or impossible shots to stop,” said Betinol, who’s sharing the crease with Dylan Jensen. “It’s putting us in a very good spot to succeed.”
Switching out of the Calgary-central Challenger South Division to the more rural Ram South Division, alongside a pair of Red Deer squads, Airdrie, Lethbridge and SEAC out of Medicine Hat, should make life a little more manageable on the Raiders.
“I definitely want to make the playoffs and go deep in the playoffs,” Betinol said. “I know we’re one of the top teams. We can compete with every team out there if we play our game.”
The name change, made to reflect the geographic reach of the team that draws players from Strathmore, Chestermere and the Foothills, is in line with fellow Okotoks Oilers Athletic Association club the Rockyview Midget-15 Raiders.
Once construction is completed in November the Raiders will play their home games at the Scott Seaman Arena in Heritage Heights.
To find out more about the Raiders go to www.ooaaoilerhockey.ca and for full schedules visit ambhl.ab.ca