Drillers rookie ahead of his class
Hockey: Michael Kneeland named Chinook league MVP
Wednesday, Mar 19, 2014 08:33 pm
The newest entry in the province’s top Senior men’s hockey league didn’t waste any time picking up some silverware.
Okotoks Drillers forward Michael Kneeland earned Most Valuable Player and first-team all-star honours in recognition of a rookie season to remember with the expansion franchise in the Chinook Hockey League.
“It was definitely quite a surprise. I didn’t even know they had an award,” admitted Kneeland, who skated with the Drilllers at the behest of friend and captain Curtis Billsten. “When I moved back to Calgary I had never really heard of the league so I wasn’t anticipating playing.”
For Kneeland, a Calgary Jr. A Royals and Lake Forest University alumnus, the 2013-14 season marked his return to competitive hockey after a four-year hiatus. The Calgarian last laced up the skates in 2009-10 with the Wichita Thunder and Knoxville Ice Bears.
“The first couple games with contact I kind of had to get my head on a swivel and remember to not go through the middle of the ice with my head down,” Kneeland said. “I didn’t know how good of hockey it would be, it was a lot better than I expected. I got to meet a bunch of new buddies and play some pretty competitive hockey.”
The Calgarian finished second in the league with 34 points and 21 assists, a pleasant surprise as an unknown commodity to Drillers general manager Jason Pytlarz.
“He came out and just kind of stuck out. I hadn’t met Mike until September of this year and it was just good luck,” Pytlarz said. “He placed second in scoring in the league and also he showed steady growth as a player in this league.
“He started off and had some assists and some goals, but really started coming on after Christmas and he was scoring all the time.”
The 30-year-old winger was one of a few bright spots in a challenging season for the new kids on the block. The expansion Drillers struggled as first-year members of the CHL, finishing in fourth-place with a 7-16-1 mark in the top-tier Senior AAA loop.
“Being a first-year team we definitely had some ups-and-downs,” Kneeland said.
“I think everybody enjoyed it and we got better as the year went on. We’re all looking forward to bigger and better things next year.”
The Drillers aren’t looking that far ahead just yet, instead they’re gazing north to Morinville where they’ll compete for the Senior men’s AA provincial banner, from March 28-30.
“We’re starting to get back on the ice and practice,” said Kneeland, who’s on loan with the Innisfail Eagles during the CHL playoffs.
“We’re going with that mindset that we don’t think anyone should be able to beat us. As long as we show up and work hard and do our best, we should win.”