Team success breeds individual success.
As the Okotoks Oilers put the finishing touches on a record-setting season as the top team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League they earned individual acclaim in three categories as winners of 2017-18 AJHL Top Coach, Top Defenceman and Top Goaltender awards.
“When you get into the league records, league awards, it’s a team thing,” said Oilers head coach Tyler Deis. “You have to have that mindset where everyone is pulling their weight to help guys get better. Some guys get rewarded for it, but it’s a team effort.”
After being a finalist for Top Goaltender the past two seasons the third time was the charm for Riley Morris.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Morris said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen for me this year being out the first 17 games, but that’s mostly a team award. It starts with our forwards keeping guys down low, our defence slowing guys down and finally it comes to me.”
The 21-year-old shot stopper is full value for the award as a top four finisher in wins, shutouts, save percentage and goals against average. He’s established franchise records for single season wins, 31, career wins, 88, games played, 141, and shutouts, 10, in his fourth season with the green-and-gold.
All this despite missing most of the first two months of action to an injury sustained in the opening weekend.
“Every day we were doing something,” he said of his rehab. “I saw a bunch of different specialists, I was with my trainer doing rehab. Basically it was more work than if I wasn’t hurt.
“Myself, I learned how to mentally control the game a bit better, not let myself get too high or too low, just even keel no matter what the play is and just reading the game a bit better.”
The Calgarian is the second Oilers netminder to take home the award following in the footsteps of Nic Renyard, whom Morris shared the crease with in his rookie season of 2014-15.
Morris shared the Top Team Goaltending Award with his apprentice, rookie netminder Ben Howard. The award goes to the team with the lowest goals against numbers in the 16-team league.
Since coming back from the injury Morris (31-2-2) has been nearly unbeatable with just two regulation losses to his name while riding a personal 18 game-winning streak in goal.
“He started off with that injury, but we know exactly who Riley is athletically, we know he’s one of the better goalies,” Deis said. “He’s been awesome, I’m super pumped for him and it’s well deserved. I think he’s been one of the best goalies not just in Alberta, but all of Western Canada the last couple of years. It’s a huge feather in his cap.”
The same can be said for the AJHL’s Top Defenceman.
Canmore native Jacob Bernard-Docker became the second Oiler to win the award in recognition of a stellar campaign at both ends of the ice. The steady blueliner has 20 goals and 41 points in just 49 games along with a World Junior A Challenge gold medal to his name.
He’s also earned considerable attention as a potential early round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
“He’s one of those guys that comes to the rink every day and wants to get better,” Deis said. “There isn’t a guy that works harder than he does and it’s super cool what’s happened to him.
“I know he’s a young kid, but everything he does he handles as a professional.”
Deis is just the second bench boss in Oiler history to take home the Coach of the Year after Dan MacDonald earned the honour in 2008-09.
He credited the team around him for the award.
“It’s pretty humbling when you get something like this for your efforts,” Deis said. “It’s not just me, it’s with everyone in this organization, it’s the staff I work with and everyone has been doing such a good job.
“At the end of the day it’s my name that gets the recognition, but it’s everyone else all putting this organization where we believe it should be.”
In his second season at the helm as a junior head coach Deis has seen the Oilers improve from fourth in the division to the runaway winners of the South Division and AJHL.
“Time is everything so the longer you’re in an organization more of your culture, more of what you’re trying to work for and the way these guys are on and off the ice comes out,” the coach added. “It’s creating that type of atmosphere that you want, getting these guys focused on what their goals are after this level of hockey and getting them focused on what they need to do to get there.”
The Okotoks trend continued in the Rookie of the Year vote.
Okotokian Zachary Okabe, a first-year standout with the high-octane Grande Prairie Storm, took home Rookie of the Year honours. The University of Vermont commit was second among first year skaters with 57 points while contributing 14-multi point games to the upstart squad. Spruce Grove Saints sniper Chris Van Os-Shaw, the league’s leading point-getter, was chosen as AJHL MVP. Rounding out the awards, Fort McMurray Oil Barons forward and Strathmore native Shane Fraser earned the Don McNabb Trophy as the player judged most dedicated to his team.
For more information on the awards go to ajhl.ca