Okotokian wins Ranchland title
Hockey: Former Bison Tyler Hughes backstops Palominos to playoff sweep
Wednesday, Mar 19, 2014 08:33 pm
Winning continues to be contagious for an Okotoks netminder.
Okotokian Tyler Hughes won his fourth straight league championship and first at the Senior level when he backstopped the Nanton Palominos to a three-game sweep of the top-seed Lomond Lakers to hoist the Ranchland Hockey League trophy on Friday.
“I just went with my experience playing in three back-to-back finals to my advantage,” said Hughes, following Nanton’s series clinching 8-3 win in Lomond on Friday. “I wasn’t nervous, I knew what to expect.”
Hughes, who won three consecutive league banners with the Okotoks Jr. B Bisons, joined some familiar faces on the Palominos roster midway through the campaign including former Bisons teammates Eddie Tracy, Brodie Eisbrenner, Colin MacMurdo and Tom Mikrut.
“I told them I hadn’t played in three months and we’ll see how this goes,” said Hughes. “When I walked into the room the guys were very welcoming and having some of the guys that I’ve played hockey with or watched play, really made it a lot easier to come into the team. I didn’t feel like I was disrupting anything.
“It’s a lot different game than Junior B. The guys are a lot bigger, they can sure shoot a lot harder and pick corners. I never thought I’d be playing in Nanton, but sure having a lot of fun out here and the guys are great.”
Nanton, the defending Ranchland champions, struggled out of the gate to a 1-4 mark as it took time to gel as a team with just 10 returning players and a number of first-year players. Hughes’ arrival was a catalyst for their late season surge and perfect run through the post-season. The team won 11 of its final 13 games entering the playoffs.
“He’s made huge saves for us all playoffs,” said Tracy, who shared three years on the Bisons with Hughes prior to this season. “Every time we need him he’s there to step up.
“He was big in turning this team around from that start we had.”
Nanton took control of the best-of-five tilt by winning the series opener 5-2 in Lomond on March 7 behind a 28-save performance from Hughes.
The Pals took Game 2 on home ice on March 8 and Hughes again starred by turning aside 37 of the 40 shots he faced. Eisbrenner was player of the game in the series’ second contest and finished the finals with three goals skating on a line with Mikrut, an ex-Bison and High River Flyer.
“We figured if we just put together a solid 60 minutes each game consistently each game it was going to come out for us,” said Eisbrenner, who won provincial gold with the Bisons last season. “I wasn’t too sure we’d do it in a sweep. I figured it would go five games, but it was still a hard-fought three games for us.
“Our big thing all year was staying tight and not getting rattled. Staying calm and realizing if we continue to play our game we have the ability to comeback from a deficit.”
The league championship means the Pals advance to the AA provincials, which they won last year with a vastly different roster. It will be the fourth straight appearance at provincials for both Hughes and Tracy.
Among its competitors at the AA provincials, March 28-30 in Morinville, are the Okotoks Drillers who feature a number of former Palominos in Curtis Billsten and Jeremy Chadsey, to name a few.
“I’m excited. It should be a fun tournament,” Hughes said. “I don’t know anybody on (Okotoks) but just beating my hometown team with a different team would be a great feeling.”
For more information on the AA provincials go to hockeyalberta.ca and find the provincials tab.