Oilers eager to get back on the ice

Hockey: Main camp starts this weekend for Okotoks Jr. A club

By: Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 13, 2014 06:00 am

Centre Rhett Gardner and the Okotoks Oilers return to the ice for pre-season training camp at Pason Centennial Arena from Aug. 17-21.
Centre Rhett Gardner and the Okotoks Oilers return to the ice for pre-season training camp at Pason Centennial Arena from Aug. 17-21.
Wheel File Photo

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Don’t look now but the dog days of summer are about to be replaced by the boys of winter.

Believe it or not, the Okotoks Jr. A Oilers return to the ice this weekend for pre-season training camp signalling the unofficial end of summer in Big Rock Country.

“We like the mix we’ve got. There is going to be a lot of competition in camp,” said Oilers head coach/GM James Poole. “In seasons past we’ve gone in with a very clear understanding of where our team sat and pretty set on returning guys that were coming back and just looking to add a few pieces to that mix.

“This year we have less returning and that means there is a lot of spots up for grabs and we think we’ve done a good job of finding a lot of really good two-way hard-working hockey players that are really going to make our decisions pretty tough.”

The Oilers return just 11 skaters from the 2013-14 season and will feature a brand new goaltending tandem with former Brooks Bandit Devon Fordyce looking to fill the hole left by three-year stalwart Jared D’Amico.

“Our identity this year is going to be a lot of hard work and we’ve done a good job of finding a lot of players that really fit that identity,” Poole said. “At forward there is going to be a lot of competition. Defence we’ve brought in a few players and we really expect to narrow the focus in terms of who those players are that are going to compete for spots.

“And goaltending just looking for that player that’s going to complement Devon Fordyce.”

It was a longer offseason than anticipated for the green army after the Oilers were unceremoniously bounced in the first-round of the playoffs in upset fashion by the Olds Grizzlys.

“Definitely everyone is eager to get back. We have a lot of unfinished business after last year was a lot shorter than a lot of us hoped,” said Oilers pivot Rhett Gardner, the team’s 2014 rookie of the year. “Depth is a huge thing. It killed us in the playoffs last year. We had a lot of secondary scoring during the year and it kind of turned off as the playoffs started.

“That definitely hurt us.”

The Moose Jaw product is one of seven incumbent forwards who, along with off-season acquisition Stephen Doane, are expected to provide the veteran leadership up-front.

“We’re going to be a newer looking team, but I think the fresh faces in there are going to be good and a lot of the veterans are ready to step up and have a good year,” Gardner said. “I’m hoping to pick up where I left off, my role definitely did expand from the start of the year to the end, trying to get back to where I was right off the hop and build from that.”

Training camp opens on Aug. 17 at Pason Centennial Arena with the first session running at 10 a.m. Camp continues on Aug. 18 and 20.

The busy of month of August continues the following week.

Okotoks hosts its third annual preseason tournament from Aug. 28-30 at The Pason. The four-team tourney will feature some of the toughest opposition the Alberta Junior Hockey League can muster in the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, Brooks Bandits and the 2014 league-finalists the Drumheller Dragons.

The event is free to season ticket holders. For ticket information call 403-995-2255 or go to okotoksoilers.ca

Coach returns

A familiar face is returning behind the bench for the Okotoks Oilers after a brief hiatus.

Bobby Fox is back with the green-and-gold as assistant coach and assistant general manager following one season with the Mount Royal University Cougars men’s hockey program.

“Bobby has a pretty good understanding of players around the league and can help me on that and in making sure I can stay focused on the things I need to focus on,” Poole said. “Whether it’s placing calls to other teams, whether it’s doing player evaluations around the league, helping in promoting players to NCAA, Bobby is capable of helping me out in all of those areas.”

Fox is a longtime member of coach Poole’s staff having served with the Oilers during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons and previously with the Calgary Midget AAA Buffaloes.

“One of the things we lacked last year is perhaps you look at the trades, there were perhaps some poor judgment there and I take responsibility for that,” Poole added. “Having a guy that has a really good understanding of the league and a guy that I can really trust and we can talk about those decisions for the organization short term and long term is going to be a benefit.

“Coaching, it’s definitely a benefit that we know each other, know what our philosophies are and mesh really well and it will help the team in terms of having that consistent message across the board.”


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