Ice breaks on Junior B season
Lacrosse: Okotoks Tier II club optimistic after building year
By: Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014 06:00 am
Two years without a playoff date can leave a bitter taste to linger.
The crusade back to the post-season begins this weekend for the Okotoks Jr. B Tier II Ice, a team optimistic an off-season retool will guide it from melting under the weight of lofty expectations heading into Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League play.
“We had a hard time last year so we kind of went back and looked at things and we’re starting fresh this year,” said first-year Ice head coach Tyler Smith. “There is a new coaching staff in, we have a pretty good returning group.
“We’re hoping to make a good push this year. I’m pretty much looking at it as South final or nothing.”
The new bench boss is leaning on his motivated group of veterans to guide the team into post-season contention. Not that the heavy lifting won’t be spread around.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with this as their last year so they want to win here,” Smith said. “We went out and found some big guys. We’re trying to bring some talent in and we really worked our development with the Tier I (Okotoks Marauders) which helps us out a lot.
“It’s a big selling feature to be able to tell kids that come here and you have a legit shot at Tier 1.”
Welcome relief for the Ice.
Okotoks was victimized by a number’s game in 2013 as player shortages, short benches and inconsistent commitment plagued the team. To combat the crisis, the squad recruited hard in the off-season and produced players from as far away as Lethbridge and Cranbrook to its 20-man roster.
Fort MacLeod’s Colton Ribling sought more exposure in switching allegiances from Lethbridge to the green-and-white of the Okotoks Ice.
“I have a couple negotiations from NCAA schools and with Lethbridge it wasn’t a very good program so I thought I’d come to a bigger city, get more experience and get called up to Tier I,” Ribling said. “I love it. It’s completely different and more my style, little bit more rough.”
Okotoks narrowly missed the post-season after a strong second half surge which saw the club win two of three down the stretch after starting the campaign with a 4-8 record.
“A lot of the guys remember it (the surge) vividly, you remember the talk when you’re in the dressing room, because it was encouraging and motivating to actually start winning and start feeling good,” said Ice veteran Alex MacPherson. “Of course that sticks, you remember that.
“Everything started to click, guys trusted each other and communication slowly got better over time.”
The holdovers from last season can speak to momentum’s elusiveness, especially when starting the season in a hole. Picking up its first victory is job number one.
“It would give the guys a huge confidence boost because then you know right off the bat that you can do it, can compete with the teams in the league,” said MacPherson. “If you’ve won then that’s the talk around until the next game. It’s crucial.”
The Ice season opener starts at 4:30 p.m. at the Southland Leisure Centre in Calgary versus the Axemen on Saturday.
Following a three-game road swing, Okotoks’ home opener goes May 11 as the Red Deer Renegades pay Pason Centennial Arena a visit. Opening face-off is 3 p.m. in the inter-divisional tilt.