Partnership netting huge returns
Hockey: Goaltenders Alex Bilton, Brayden Engel thriving for Okotoks
Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 02:13 pm
There is safety in numbers on the Okotoks Jr. Bisons’ last line of defence.
Whether it’s provincial champion Alex Bilton or freshman Brayden Engel tending the crease, the Bisons’ two-headed monster in goal is proving to be amongst the best in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
“Coming in as the guy who would be looked at as the back-up as a rookie and with what Alex did last year I would imagine most coaches would want to ride that guy,” said Engel, who matched Bilton’s mark of 12 wins during the regular season. “To be given the opportunity to prove that I deserve to be here and can play here is obviously a good feeling.”
Bilton established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the province after sharing duties with veteran Tyler Hughes and starting and winning the provincial gold medal game victory over Sherwood Park last spring.
The Calgarian enjoyed a rookie season to remember finishing with the lowest goals-against-average in the league and second in wins with, 18.
It’s been a bumpier road in Bilton’s second trip through the southern Alberta loop with his numbers taking a slight hit and a lower-body injury sidelining him for a month.
“I felt at times it could have been better,” Bilton said. “Having that injury and being out for so long was pretty rough, but overall I’d say I’m having a pretty good season.
“It ran a lot smoother last year and that also comes with the team we had.”
Engel made the most of the playing time in his partner’s absence. The 19-year-old posted three wins, two shutouts en route to goaltender of the month honours in January.
“It’s a great relationship both on and off the ice. It’s not a case of resentment on who plays, it’s more happiness that the other guy is getting a chance to play,” Bilton said. “With me being out it gave Brayden a chance to step up and he did, which we were all pretty impressed with.
“Brayden playing high school hockey last year he wasn’t really exposed to what we’re playing right now and with my experiences from last year I’ve helped him out a lot. Just telling him how it goes and what to expect.”
Engel, who moved to Calgary from Barrie, ONT in the summer, credited the sophomore netminder for easing his transition into Bisons’ colours.
“As soon as I made the team he added me on Facebook and said we’re going out tonight and invited me out which meant a lot because really I don’t know anyone here outside of the team,” Engel said. “I’m my own worst enemy and (Alex) has picked up on that and there have been times when we’ve talked about getting out of my own head… It’s been really nice to have him as a goalie partner.
“Coming into a team whose had so much success it’s a lot of pressure and with losing being completely unacceptable. I feel like I’ve handled it well.”
For Bilton, the 2013-14 version of the Bisons had its coming together moment in a team meeting in January after suffering back-to-back losses to Cochrane and Banff.
“I do believe that was the turning point in our season, things have been a lot more positive especially for myself and Brayden. We’ve had a lot more communication with the rest of the team,” Bilton said. “Just a bad play someone makes and we weren’t reacting to it very well so being able to discuss it and realize everyone needs to take a step back and discuss things within each other instead of getting mad.
“And it’s worked.”
The two-goalie system is rooted in the Bisons system as a means to tackle the gruelling playoff, provincial and westerns format which often has teams play multiple games over a short period of time.
“Coaches want to prepare us for provincials, possibly westerns as well, and they believe the best way to do that is have two goalies who can both play and both have confidence in,” Bilton said.
“It was never a question of whether returning would give me the starting position or not … I was expecting to split games pretty evenly.
“That’s how we rolled last year throughout playoffs and provincials and I’m expecting it to go the same way.”