Oilers alumni vying for frozen four
Hockey: Five Okotoks Jr. A alumni competing in NCAA national tournament
By: Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 10:48 am
The season may have ended prematurely for the Okotoks Oilers, but several former members of the organization are still flying the green-and-gold flag in the biggest tournament south of the border.
Five Oilers graduates are off to the first round of the NCAA national tournament representing three schools — Vermont, North Dakota and Minnesota State — in three of the four regional brackets this weekend.
Derek Rodwell and the University of North Dakota nearly had its nation leading streak of tournament appearances snapped, but took care of business in beating Western Michigan 5-0 on the weekend and got a little help from a rival school to sneak into the Frozen Four.
“It’s the first time in my four years that we’ve had to get some help from the outside,” said Rodwell, a Jr. Oiler from 2007-2010. “It came down to one last game between Wisconsin and Ohio State and Wisco scored in overtime to get us into the tournament.”
Ironically, the Wisconsin Badgers now stand in the way of North Dakota as first-round opponents in the Midwest Region semifinal, Friday in Cincinnati.
“We know they’ve had a pretty strong season and are the number-one seed for a reason,” Rodwell said. “It’s going to be a tough game.”
Rodwell, a New Jersey Devils fifth round pick in 2009, is eager to add to North Dakota’s seven national championships to cap off his senior year in style.
“You’ve got to realize that anything can happen in a one-game elimination. You’ve got to bring it every game, leave it all on the line and get a little bit lucky,” said Rodwell, making his fourth NCAA tournament appearance. “It’s my last kick at the can, my last chance at it. Everyone wants to go out on top and it would be a nice little prize to win in your senior year.”
Over in the East Regional, a trio of Oilers alumnus will get their first shot at Frozen Four glory with the upstart Vermont Catamounts.
Nowhere is the Oilers green more prominent than in picturesque Burlington where the Catamounts are represented by Okotoks alumni Jonathan Turk, Caylen Walls, Robert Hamilton as well as Kyle Reynolds, who’s out for the season with a knee injury.
Vermont meets Union College in the East regional semifinal, Friday in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“We’ve spent the last week working on our systems and focusing on making ourselves better and we’ll watch some video on them and prepare,” said Hamilton, who’s enjoying a stellar freshman campaign with blueline partner Michael Paliotta.
“Everyone is pumped. We all got together and watched the selection show and it was big news when it came out.”
The Catamounts’ tournament entry, their first since 2010, was anything but set in stone leading up to the weekend.
“It’s very exciting and pretty surreal right now,” said Turk, the Oilers’ franchise games played record holder.
“It came down to certain teams winning and Lowell winning the Hockey East solidified us a spot. We got a lot of help from other teams.”
Former Oiler Johnny McInnis and the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks left no doubt in their bid for a spot in the national tournament.
The Mavericks upset #4 ranked Ferris State to win the first Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) championship in program history and gained automatic entry into the NCAA tourney. McInnis, who holds the Oilers record for goals in a season with 42 in 2009, has served as Mavericks captain in this, his Senior, season in Mankato.
Minnesota State, which enters the tournament on a 13-game winning streak, is matched up with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Riverhawks in the Northeast region semifinal in Worcester, Massachusetts on Saturday.
For full schedule information on the Frozen Four go to ncaa.com.