Bisons can't wrangle stranglehold on finals
Hockey: Okotoks and Blackfalds tied 1-1 in Jr. B championship series
Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 10:48 am
Special teams were indeed special for the Okotoks Bisons in their championship series opener.
The Jr. B Bisons took command of the best-of-five Heritage Junior Hockey League finals through a four-goal effort on the powerplay en route to a 5-3 win over the Blackfalds Wranglers, Friday at Murray Arena.
“We’ve been working on a new powerplay and it’s been working out the last five games,” said Bisons blueliner Matt Howatt. “Getting lots of movement, getting them moving so they’re not sure what they’re doing and then getting guys open.”
After Blackfalds wrangled the first goal of the series through Robin Carlson, power forward Josh Haley answered on the man-advantage to kick-start Okotoks’ dominant evening on special teams. Rookie pivot Luke Loomer would add the hosts second on the powerplay before period’s end when Blackfalds netminder Kyle Baumgardner found himself way out of the blue paint.
“The goalie went to cover it and made a mistake,” Loomer said.
“It was a gift. I just had to tap it in.”
The Wranglers got a gift of their own early in the middle frame in the form of a three-on-one breakout with Garrett Glasman finishing off a backhand deke and slid the puck past a helpless Brayden Engel in goal.
Okotoks would jump back in-front when Loomer peeled off the half-boards and threw the puck on goal for linemate Kevan Mikkelsen to deftly tip into the back of the net. Blackfalds bounced back almost immediately when Trent Hermary had time and space to wire a wicked-wrister into the cage.
The Bisons went back to the well to close the period with the lead as rearguard Tyson Arnholtz snuck to the slot on the powerplay and beat Baumgardner five-hole for what would hold up as the game-winner.
Howatt would double the advantage with a sublime individual effort on the man-advantage when he collected the puck at the point, spun away from a check, got his feet moving, cut inside and beat Baumgardner glove-side.
“I went around the one guy near the blueline and the d-man in front of the net dropped too quick so I just stepped to the inside and the let the shot go,” Howatt said.
“I just knew we needed some insurance goals so I tried to get the puck to the net and it just happened to work out.”
Engel’s pads would make a few more cameos in the final period, using every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame for a pair of dynamite leg saves to preserve the two-goal advantage and lock up his sixth win of the playoffs.
“We just needed to stick to our systems, get pucks deep,” Loomer said. “We really focused on the bluelines, getting pucks deep on both bluelines and if we stick to that we will be able to win.”
Okotoks, fresh off an emotional series victory over High River in the gruelling Southern final, earned a spot in the Junior B provincials just by making the league finals. A fact that’s done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for a fourth straight championship for the herd.
“Everyone is still pretty psyched and it was pretty easy to get up,” Loomer said. “Both teams want to win the league, it’s about pride so both teams are staying pretty intense.”
Blackfalds came out with intensity when the series moved north up for Sunday’s Game 2 as the Wranglers cruised to a 5-1 victory on home-ice.
The Wranglers attacked from all angles with five different scorers Curtis Rajotte, Chance Abbott, Carlson, Jared Guilbault and Dalen Kolybaba all finding twine for the hosts. Bisons rookie Kristian Ayoungman’s third period tally was all the visitors could muster offensively. As effective as the Bisons powerplay was on home-ice it stalled away from the friendly confines of the Murray Arena as Okotoks was blanked on all six attempts on the man-advantage in Game 2.
The third game of the series was Tuesday March 25, after the Western Wheel’s press time. Game 4 is Saturday in Blackfalds and should the series go the distance, the fifth and final contest would be Sunday in Okotoks, 1:15 p.m. at Murray Arena.