Foothills rivalry renewed
Hockey: Bisons and Flyers meet for final time this season on Friday
Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014 08:53 pm
There’s more than regional pride on the line when the sixth volume of the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s battle of the foothills hits the ice this weekend.
An Okotoks Jr. B Bisons win over the High River Flyers at the Bob Snodgrass Recplex on Friday and another victory on Sunday will be enough for the former to lock up yet another South Division title.
“We’ve got eight points remaining to earn or lose and whether we’re talking clinching the South or clinching the league as far as home-ice advantage all the way through, we’re trying to do both,” said Bisons general manager Jay McFarlane. “For us we’re using (this game) as a gauge. High River’s had the best of us in our last five meetings.
“Since our adjustment after the Jan. 10 deadline I think we do have a different team.”
If Okotoks (22-9-1) picks up three points or more from its Friday road game and Sunday home date versus the Cochrane Generals (1:15 p.m. at Murray Arena) it will clinch the first seed in the South.
Both teams stumble into the Friday showdown on the heels of disappointing weekend performances. The Bisons fell 4-1 to the Medicine Hat Cubs on Saturday.
“Our guys are two weeks away mentally from playoff hockey and we’re encountering teams, in Medicine Hat’s case, that are already in playoff mode because they’re trying to make playoffs,” McFarlane said. “I hope eyes are opened a little bit more for Friday.”
High River managed a 1-2 weekend with a narrow win over the Ponoka Stampeders followed by consecutive defeats to the Coaldale Copperheads and Medicine Hat.
The Flyers won all five meetings this season with Okotoks, including a pair of early season drubbings before most recently holding on for a 4-3 result on Dec. 6.
The foothills’ Jr. B entries have been trending in opposite directions over the past eight weeks.
Okotoks is 9-3-1 since last bowing out to High River. For the Flyers, winners of just three of its last 11 games, a date with the Bisons might just be what the doctor ordered.
“We definitely seem to turn it up when we play them,” said Flyers forward Alex Pronchuk. “It’s one way to bring our intensity back that we had a couple months ago, we haven’t seemed to be able to find that against the rest of the league as of late.
“This is a team we’re almost forced to (turn it up against). So we’re definitely going to take advantage of it.”
The Bisons would be well served to keep an eye on Pronchuk, who leads the league with 64 points – seven more than Bisons playmaker Phil Dillon.
“Between the two of them that’s going to be an interesting matchup, who’s the better player for that game and ultimately overall?” McFarlane said. “When (Pronchuk) is out there, we’re looking to have our best d-pairing if possible and try to minimize the opportunities he seems to get.”
Pronchuk not only leads the league in points, he’s lit up the Bisons with 10 goals and seven assists through five meetings this season.
“I know against a team like this I have to be at my best every shift because they’re such a great team,” said Pronchuk, a 38-goal scorer this year. “If I’m counted on at all to contribute that way then I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to go at all times.”
As for the Flyers’ dominance over their regional rivals this season, well you can pretty much throw it out the window, Pronchuk added.
“I know we’re not focused on the five games that we’ve played them, it’s in the past and we know that they’re thinking the same thing,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve played them and this is a game on its own.”
For the Bisons, midseason additions of hard-nosed blueliner Brandon Lijdsman and forwards Spencer Barlow-Lakusta and Josh Haley have breathed new life into the club over the past two months.
“With Lijdsman on the back-end, that’s changed the overall calmness on the team when things get heated or the game becomes physical, which is High River’s style, that one player make a big difference,” McFarlane said. “Offensively, what Haley and Barlow have shown up to this point certainly is going to add a little bit more diverse firepower against the Pronchuk line in particular.”
Puck-drop for the foothills derby is 8 p.m. on Friday at the Bob Snodgrass Recplex in High River.
For more information go to okotoksbisons.com