Shootout fires Flyers past sluggish Bisons

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When coach taps you on the shoulder you better be ready.

Rookie defenceman Chase Groeneveld made the most of his moment, notching the shootout winner as the High River Flyers snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Okotoks Bisons in the 3-2 triumph Sunday at the Murray Arena.

“I was not expecting that at all,” said Groeneveld, a Blackie native. “I’ve scored in shootouts in practice and figured I would get in eventually, but I didn’t think I would be that early in the lineup for a shootout.”

Following shootout goals from High River’s Davis Sheldon and Okotoks’ Kyle Becker, the visitors clinched the win in the fourth round of shooters as Groeneveld used his 6-foot-2 reach to tuck in a backhander followed by a missed shot by Bisons forward Jason Horn.

“I had a specific shot in mind and I figured I would try it on him,” Groeneveld said. “When I go side-to-side I move the goalie a lot more with my long reach.”

Okotoks saw its 2-0 first-period lead evaporate in what was the third game in as many days for both teams.

Big Robbie McLean opened the scoring followed by an unassisted marker from captain Josh McCulloch giving the Bisons the 2-0 lead in a dominant opening frame.

The Flyers came out a different team in the middle stanza and cut the lead in half on a powerplay marker from Okotokian Evan Pakkala. The sophomore centre scored again in the opening minute of the third period to force overtime.

“Our energy was great in the first and then we quit in the second and third,” said Bisons head coach Chris Beston. “I can’t explain that, penalties slowed down everything in the second and in third a bit as well.”

The topsy-turvy performance was par for the course all weekend.

Okotoks opened the weekend with a 7-4 win Friday at home over the North Division kingpin Blackfalds Wranglers and then took a 5-2 loss to the Cochrane Generals on the road on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed with the way it turned out,” Beston said. “We let two go that we probably should have had. For me personally, I think our team is better than what we showed this weekend.”

Okotoks saw a glorious opportunity on Sunday to take back the lead slip through its fingers when a seven-minute powerplay in the final frame yielded very little.

“We didn’t shoot the puck enough,” Beston said. “Our execution, we’ve got to get better on that powerplay. That’s kind of our weak spot right now. We will get better.”

One silver lining for the hosts was the play of Nicholas Ewanchuk.

The netminder made 42 saves in his Bisons debut, including a trio of highlight reel stops on the dangerous Sheldon.

The Flyers snapped an 11-game slump against their arch rivals in the Battle of the Foothills with their last victory back in October of 2014.

“It felt really good to beat them,” Groeneveld said. “I’m just a young guy, but all the veterans on the team haven’t beat them in forever. That felt so good to finally beat them, especially here in Okotoks.”

The Bisons (9-4-1) remain in first-place in a log-jammed Southern Division. Okotoks’ continued its ridiculous five games in seven days schedule with a trip to Strathmore on Nov. 7 followed by a rematch with the Flyers on Nov. 9 back at the Murray Arena. Puck-drop is 8 p.m.

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