Drillers in a league of their own at provincials
Hockey: Okotoks wins Senior men's AA title in Morinville
Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 06:00 am
Expansion teams aren’t supposed to make winning look this easy.
The Okotoks Drillers fought off the physical Daysland Northstars to comfortably win the Senior men’s AA provincial banner by a 4-1 score, Sunday morning in Morinville, to usher in a promising inaugural season for the franchise.
“To start a brand new Senior men’s AA hockey team, compete in the Chinook league and then attain our ultimate goal of winning the AA championship, it’s a bit of a Cinderella story for us,” said Drillers general manager Jason Pytlarz. “It’s not an easy championship to win, it’s fierce competition.”
The final was not without tribulations for the Drillers.
Starting netminder Gerry Festa was run into and forced out of action with a concussion, leaving Adam Melon to preserve the 3-1 lead in the final frame. Melon posted a perfect period and Michael Kneeland added a late empty netter to see out the three-goal result. Jeff Sapieha, Kyle Reed and captain Curtis Billsten earlier scored for the gold-medal winners.
“The entire game was really a build-up, in my eyes, towards next season. Our whole team gelled together and played a complete team game,” Billsten said.
“The tournament and the gold medal game all in all was really uplifting as far as our overall team and what’s going to be coming forth next year with more players, more recruitment and a lot of good to speak of.”
“Winning the championship in AA and having the commitment and dedication from all the guys who came up, it leaves a real good taste in your mouth.”
The Drillers opened proceedings at the quarterfinal stage and remained in the AA bracket by blitzing the host Morinville Kings 9-4. Eight Drillers found twine in the victory, led by a two-goal game from Kneeland, the Chinook Hockey League MVP.
Okotoks then made quick work of the Bonnyville Sr. Pontiacs, winning 10-2 to advance to the final. Kneeland and Billsten each scored twice with Travis Bradshaw, Tyler Helfrich, Derek Endicott, Reed, Sapieha and Okotokian Jon Malin also finding twine.
“We were still trying to knock the rust off the old skate blades, but once we got rolling, the chemistry started to get going, the players just accelerated and there was no looking back,” Pytlarz said. “Bonnyville, they weren’t as deep of a team, no disrespect intended, but my third line came up huge shutting their top-line guys down and (lines) one and two just finished them off.”
Malin, part of a trio of late season additions alongside Derek Endicott and Talon Berlando, took pride in winning for his hometown on the provincial stage.
“It’s been a while since I’ve represented an Okotoks team,” said Malin, a Foothills Composite graduate and former captain of the SAIT Trojans. “It’s always special whenever you can represent your hometown in any way and the fact you win a championship is the cherry on top of that.”
A priceless building block for a sophomore season with lofty expectations for the young franchise. The Drillers will affiliate at AAA next season and make their first bid for an Allan Cup, the national Senior AAA men’s championship.
“The AAA Allan Cup starts today, the day after AA provincials for us,” Pytlarz said on Monday. “We’re actively scouting guys, talking to people and we have about half a dozen key people we’re going to be adding to the organization as far as players and we’re also looking for volunteers and staff to go to the next level.
“It takes a staff of 20-30 people to make this happen and we did it with the bare bones of about half a dozen this year.”
The Kings took home the A provincial title on home-ice by edging the Devon Longhorns 4-3 in the final. The Palominos, featuring Okotokian Tyler Hughes in goal, finished with a record of 1-1 and were ousted by Daysland in the AA semifinals on Saturday.
For more information on the Senior AA/A provincials go to hockeyalberta.ca