Bisons earn first round playoff bye
Hockey: Okotoks finishes second to Coaldale on tiebreaker
Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018 06:00 am
The Okotoks Bisons said farewell to the regular season with a bye in mind.
Okotoks (24-10-2) clipped the Medicine Hat Cubs 7-2 in the regular season finale Sunday at the Murray Arena to clinch a bye through the first-round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League post-season.
“We came in today only being able to control what we can control and that was to come out today with a W,” said Bisons alternate captain Kyle Harrison. “We were definitely motivated to get that win for that exact purpose. We want to go into the bye week with energy and with our game plan in hand. Nothing changes for us day in and day out.”
The Coaldale Copperheads’ victory later on Sunday clinched the Snakes the top-seed in the Southern Division. Coaldale and Okotoks finished with the same record, but Coaldale’s edge in head-to-head play gave them the top slot.
Anything short of a victory on Sunday would have slid the Bisons into the number three-hole.
They left no room for doubt in a dominant opening frame.
Tyler Rohl and Kyle Dunville scored on consecutive shifts, Harrison potted a rebound marker and captain Josh McCulloch made it a four-goal lead inside 12 minutes with a shorthanded breakaway goal. Cub Kian Simonson got the visitors on the board with a late powerplay marker.
“Come in play, a full 60 minutes and try and get revved up for playoff hockey,” said Bisons forward Robbie McLean.
“Hard, physical, quick, easy plays, nice and crisp. We did pretty well in the first period, second period we got into a little bit of penalty trouble and I was happy with how the team responded. All in all a good way to finish off my Bisons career.”
The second period descended into chaos.
Medicine Hat found itself within two after Cody Riehl made good on a 2-on-0 breakaway 65 seconds into the frame. Okotoks then gave its penalty kill an extended workout with 24 minutes in penalties in the period alone. The Cubs couldn’t cash in with nearly four minutes of consecutive 5-on-3 due largely to the exploits of Bisons netminder Nicholas Ewanchuk.
“Nic definitely helped us out, it would have been a totally different game if he didn’t do what he did back there for us,” Harrison said. “I feel like refs are almost out to get us with some things, we can’t catch a break. We can’t control that so we practice our penalty-kill pretty intensely and it paid off.”
The herd put the result away in the final stanza.
McLean scored twice, Harrison added his second of the game and team leading 26th goal as Okotoks blew the doors off the visitors by a 7-2 score while throwing 70 shots at Cubs goalie Josh Breznik.
Okotoks closed the season with four straight wins, highlighted by road victories over the Copperheads and High River Flyers on consecutive nights.
It’s part of a build-up to playoff hockey where it’s nearly impossible to just flip the “on” switch on game day.
“We talked as a team a few weeks ago and said we’ve got to ramp it up, these next couple games are going to be playoff games,” Harrison added. “Like they were against High River, Cochrane, Coaldale and then here with Medicine Hat. Our game plan doesn’t change, we want to do what we can and come out with a win.”
Coaldale and Okotoks are idle during the first-round of the post-season. The opening round best-of-three tilts feature the third-seed Cochrane Generals and sixth-seed Cubs while the four-versus-five matchup pits High River and the Strathmore Wheatland Kings.
“We had the bye last year and I like it for the fact you can get guys healed up,” Harrison added. “The biggest thing is practising with intensity and keeping up in that almost game like regime, not letting ourselves get rusty or behind the eight-ball.”
In the North, Red Deer and Airdrie earned the bye. The first-round series pit Mountainview versus Stettler and Blackfalds against Ponoka.
“All the guys are gelling really well,” McLean said. “We all like each other, we’re all having a great time and we all believe that we can go for it all this year and make a great push.
“Our room knows we will make it to the finals, we just have to show everyone else.”