Bisons wrangle first-overall

Hockey: Okotoks finishes season with top-record in HJHL after 4-1 win in Blackfalds

By: Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am

The Okotoks Bisons huddle around Chris Couper, second from left, after opening the scoring in Okotoks' 4-1 win over the Blackfalds Wranglers on Sunday. The three-goal win in Blackfalds ensured the Bisons finished the season first-overall in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
The Okotoks Bisons huddle around Chris Couper, second from left, after opening the scoring in Okotoks' 4-1 win over the Blackfalds Wranglers on Sunday. The three-goal win in Blackfalds ensured the Bisons finished the season first-overall in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
Remy Greer/OWW

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BLACKFALDS – Houdini’s got nothing on these Okotoks Jr. B Bisons.

Needing some magic in the final week of the regular season, the Bisons rose to the occasion to usurp the Blackfalds Wranglers off the league throne by winning the battle for first-place 4-1, Sunday in Blackfalds, to sew up their third straight regular season title.

“I thought we had a good chance, not knowing Blackfalds would end up losing their last games,” said Bisons defenceman Chris Couper. “We were one point behind them most of the second half of the season so this game was going to be the big factor.

“It’s good our team came together and got the win for it.”

The Northern Division top-seed Wranglers let first-place overall in the Heritage Junior Hockey League slip away with losses earlier in the week to Red Deer and Three Hills, defeats which would prove costly on Sunday.

Okotoks charged out of the gate in the first-place battle, registering the first six shots on goal and peppering Wranglers netminder Kyle Baumgardner from all angles. The Bisons finally broke the deadlock 13 minutes in on the powerplay when Couper fired one in from the point off a face-off win.

“We had the team in front of the net so I just shot for a rebound, more than anything, and it happened the puck had more eyes than I did and found the back of the net,” Couper said.

“It was good to get that first one out of the way and give us that little bit of motivation, that hey we can’t stop.

“We had everyone of our lines going and that’s why we played so well today.”

The hosts pushed back strong in the final minutes of the period and were poised to even the score when Garret Glassman was in alone on a breakaway only to be stopped by a terrific pad save from Bisons goalie Alex Bilton with 17 seconds left.

“Both of our defencemen got caught up high and it was a nice save for myself,” Bilton said. “And it really changed the momentum.”

Okotoks turned on the afterburners for the middle frame and saw its lead doubled just 93 seconds into the period on a breakaway beauty from sparkplug pivot Spencer Barlow-Lakusta.

The Bisons would make it 3-0 off a mad scramble where Zak Johns was in the right spot to chip the puck past a helpless Baumgardner.

The Wranglers showed signs of life late in the period and finally beat Bilton through a powerplay marker from Tiaan Anderson, the only time they would find the back of the net.

The Bisons saw the result out in a comfortable third-period with Kevan Mikkelsen registering the early insurance marker on the powerplay off a terrific saucer pass from linemate Phil Dillon, to put the finishing touches on a statement victory in what could very well be a preview of the league championship series.

“It’s a big game and important for us to get first in the league and continue the tradition here with the Bisons,” Bilton said. “We knew if we came out strong and worked as a team, every man on the ice, every second, that we would probably come out of here with the win.”

Okotoks kept its drive for first alive on Friday evening via a rollercoaster 8-7 win in overtime over the Medicine Hat Cubs on a Barlow-Lakusta tally in the extra-frame.

Owners of home-ice advantage throughout the post-season is an enviable position which may not have been forecasted at the start of the season, admitted head coach Mike Hannigan.

“It looked pretty desperate at the beginning of the year, losing all those players all those 21-year-olds and all that experience,” Hannigan said. “But the guys that did stay, the four 21-year-olds (Dillon, Mikkelsen, Matt Howatt, Mike Savage) have done a good job ingraining that Bisons tradition with the young kids.

“We’ve come a long ways.”

Playoffs this week

As owners of a first-round bye, the Okotoks Bisons will be keeping a keen eye on opening-round proceedings in the Heritage Junior Hockey League post-season.

Okotoks will play the winner of the fourth versus fifth seed best-of-three series featuring the Medicine Hat Cubs and Coaldale Copperheads.

The Bisons are expected to host Game 1 of the second-round series on Sunday Feb. 23. The other Southern Division second-round series sees the upstart Banff Bears square off with the High River Flyers.

In Northern Division action, the top-seed Wranglers await the winner of the Red Deer Vipers and Three Hills Thrashers opening round-series.

The two-versus-three matchup features the Stettler Lightning and Mountainview Colts.

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