Twenty-year old seasons aren’t supposed to start this way.
Okotoks Oilers netminder Riley Morris saw his fourth and final year with the Alberta Junior Hockey League squad come to an abrupt speed bump when a lower body injury kept the star shot-stopper out of action for close to two months.
“It was pretty frustrating, but the team made it easy on me by winning,” Morris said. “If we started 0-and-10 I probably would have felt rushed and stepped back into the net earlier than I needed to.
“With us winning it was easy to get completely healthy and come back ready to go.”
Morris was sidelined for 57 days with a lower body injury. He hasn’t played since the Oilers season debut victory over the Brooks Bandits.
In his stead, rookie netminder Ben Howard more than held his own.
The Calgarian won 15 of his 17 starts while posting a solid 2.33 goals against average, helping the Oilers to the best defensive record in the provincial loop.
“You couldn’t have asked anything more of him,” Morris said of his partner in the crease. “He absolutely stepped in and did unbelievably coming in as a 17-year-old rookie. That’s huge and exactly what you wanted to see from him.”
Morris, Okotoks’ all-time leader in goaltender wins, got back on the ice for Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Olds Grizzlys.
“It was definitely an adjustment,” Morris said. “I felt pretty shaky going into that Olds game. It really came down to finding my groove again and getting back on my feet.”
He followed it up with a 29-save performance against the Bandits on Sunday as Okotoks thumped Brooks by a 5-1 score for its fourth win in four meetings with the number-two seed in the South.
He had some help from his friends on the blueline.
“I do have to thank the team, they kept a lot of shots to the outside,” Morris said. “They blocked quite a few ones for us. (Nick) Blankenburg got high sticked, tooth went through his lip, he started bleeding and he was still able to rush out and block another shot.”
The back-end was also at the forefront of the attack.
Jacob Bernard-Docker scored a pair and Carson Beers had three points.
Kaleb Ergang put a bow on the result with a highlight reel marker after linemate Cole Basnett gained the zone.
“Basnett cut through the middle, got hit and the puck came loose,” Ergang said. “I grabbed it and slipped it through the guys skates and went in and took a quick shot.”
Almost as quick as the Oilers ability to bounce back from a frustrating evening in Olds.
“Heading into Brooks we had to be ready for the next day so we just had to bounce back,” Ergang said. “It was a statement win and we had to come out hard.”
“We’re a young team, but we’re fast and really have to use our speed every game. Speed kills.”
Okotoks (17-2-1) boasts a four-point lead on Brooks for tops in the South with three games in hand on the Bandits.
It’s a confident group with either goaltender manning the last line of defence.
“The goalies, it’s incredible having them back there to bail us out,” Ergang said.
The Oilers were home the surging Calgary Mustangs on Nov. 14 after the Western Wheel’s press time. Later this week, Okotoks and Olds square off on Nov. 17 at Pason Centennial Arena at 7 p.m.
Okotoks wraps up the weekend Sunday in Strathmore for a road date with the Calgary Canucks at 2:30 p.m.
For more information go to okotoksoilers.ca