| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 07:33 pm
In a league known for its pace of play the search is on for an injection of size.
With a reputation as a team built on speed and skill, the Okotoks Jr. Oilers put a premium on identifying strength and physicality in their offseason recruiting for main camp, Aug. 17-20 at Pason Centennial Arena.
“We've really tried to add some size and it has been difficult,” said Oilers head coach and general manager James Poole. “A lot of those players that have size that can play, unfortunately they're making that choice to go to the WHL (Western Hockey League). The WHL looks for those types of players and it's a little tougher to convince some of those players to go the (Jr. A) route.”
Power forwards are harder to come by than a dry August in Alberta and when a team has the prototype it tends to hang on to such a treasured commodity. It's as true in the NHL as it is in the Junior ranks.
The Oilers have been bounced from the playoffs two of the last three years by a team typifying the size and work-ethic paradigm, the Olds Grizzlys.
“Looking at last year's team we had a decent level of skill, but perhaps didn't quite complement that with the amount of hard-working players we had in the lineup,” Poole said. “This year I think it will be pretty consistent across lines one through four, they're all going to be hard-working lines and we can really use our depth up-front.”
Okotoks' veteran group will tell much of the story of just how far the depth stretches in the forward ranks with Poole pointing to incumbents Rhett Gardner, Ambrose Firkus, Tanner Ockey and Mitch Collett to leap forward in 2014-15.
“We think we've found some players that really fit that mould and we're really going to be a team that scores by committee. And we're looking for some of our veterans the Gardners, the Firkus', the Ockeys, the Colletts to hopefully increase their production offensively.”
A pair of prospects familiar to the Oilers could help out in the power-forward role.
“In the AJ if you want to play you don't have to be big, but you have to play big, be physical and not be afraid to get in those battles and play in those corners,” said Shane Allan, a Calgary Midget AAA Royal last season. “That fits into my game perfectly. I'm a big guy, I've got lots of skill, but can also play down low and play tough hockey if I need to.”
The six-foot-three, 165-pound forward suited up in three games as an affiliate player with the Oilers in 2013-14 and didn't look out of place.
“I'm so much more ready than last year. I didn't really put on the weight that I would like to, but I definitely got a lot longer on my skates and my decision making is a lot quicker,” Allan said. “I got a nice taste of Junior last year and now I know what to expect.”
The 16-year-old looks to follow in the footsteps of older brother Taylor Allan, who made Okotoks out of camp one year ago. Taylor was later traded to the British Columbia Hockey League.
“For me, it's always being a contributing factor whether it's in the d-zone breaking up plays or in the offensive zone making plays happen. Whatever it is, to just be a threat out there at all times,” Allan said.
“(Taylor) told me every shift is a tryout, you're not guaranteed to play every game, you always have to give it your all or you could be sitting in the stands.
“He told me to make sure you're doing what the coaches are telling you because that's what really counts.”
Hulking 16-year-old winger Carsen Twarynski is no stranger to the Oilers coaching staff either.
The Calgary Midget AAA Buffaloes alumnus suited up in a pair of Oilers contests as an affiliate last season and one year later feels he's ready to make the jump on a permanent basis.
“I think I could have made it last year, but I'm glad I had another year of Midget to develop a bit more and grow, get a bit bigger,” Twarynski said. “This year I'm definitely ready to make that jump to Junior.
“They had a rough end to the season last year and I hope I can come in and change that this year. Just looking to work hard and crack a spot on this team.”