Bisons tied down at provincials
Hockey: Okotoks misses out on playoff round at Jr. B championships
Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am
An encore gold-medal performance at the Junior B provincials just wasn’t in the cards for the Okotoks Bisons.
Okotoks finished 1-1-1 at the provincials in Clairmont and had their fate sealed in a 3-3 tie with the North Peace Navigators Saturday to remove any prospects of moving out of the group stage.
“There was a couple half-second mistakes that cost us the game and the final goal they tied on could have happened to anyone,” said Bisons captain Michael Savage. “One of their d-men took a high shot and it ended up hitting one of our guys in the collarbone and no one saw it and it fell down right on one of their sticks in front of the net and he slid it in.
“It’s hard to take when we lost based on a tie.”
Parity ruled the day in Clairmont as all eight competitors found themselves with a record of 1-1 entering the final day of round-robin play. A win in any of the four contests equalled a trip through to the semifinals in the evening.
For North Peace, a come-from-behind 3-3 would suffice as it held the tiebreaker over Okotoks.
“It was tied after two periods and that’s when we knew (a tie) wouldn’t be enough and then we scored pretty quick and tried to ride that lead out and it just wasn’t enough,” said Bisons forward Phil Dillon. “It was just a broken play, scrambly goal.”
The Bisons drove themselves into must-win territory by dropping the second game of round-robin play 5-0 to the Calgary Royals Blue, a team the herd was guilty of overlooking.
“We were looking past it to our third game,” said Dillon. “No one was really ready or took them serious, we were just overconfident.”
The team was positively brimming with confidence after starting the provincials on a winning note Thursday, something that’s eluded the Bisons over the past three years, in edging the St. Albert Merchants by a 4-3 count on goals from Dillon, Savage, Kevan Mikkelsen and Zak Johns.
“We were all really pumped up and knowing last year we had tied and the year before had lost, we all really wanted to get started off on the right foot and get that win,” Dillon said. “We were all really confident and I think that’s what killed us going into the next game.”
It was a much smoother ride in Clairmont for the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s other representatives, the Blackfalds Wranglers. The league runner-ups shutout the host Grande Prairie Kings 6-0 in the gold medal game to hoist the Russ Barnes Trophy for the second time in four years.
A bitter pill to swallow for a Bisons squad that beat out the Wranglers in the league finals.
“That’s another kick to the stomach knowing that the team that won we beat,” Savage said. “It’s pretty disappointing. I definitely think we deserved a lot better. When it came down to it, the one game we lost we took for granted way too much and it was pretty hard to take.”
The provincial tournament closed the book on the careers of four key cogs to the Bisons over the past half decade. It was the final contest in the blue-red-and-white for fourth-year players Savage, Dillon and Matt Howatt and third-year stalwart Kevan Mikkelsen.
“It didn’t really hit me until at the end,” Dillon said. “Playing with Matt and Mike, it’s been four years, after the game it was pretty emotional and pretty overwhelming.”
The quartet won Heritage Junior Hockey League championships and competed in the provincial championships in each of their seasons in Big Rock Country.
“The four of us, there is a lot of time that you reflect on while you’re there and all of it was good. That makes it harder, leaving something that’s been so awesome for four years of life is pretty hard,” Savage said. “Couldn’t have picked a better organization or group of guys to play my four years with, that’s for sure.
“The team we started with at the beginning of the year I didn’t really have a lot of faith in it, but we definitely came together and pulled something pretty spectacular out.”