Bisons split to stay on top in the South
Hockey: Okotoks rebounds with big win over Medicine Hat
Wednesday, Nov 01, 2017 06:00 am
It’s a bad news, good news situation for the Okotoks Jr. B Bisons.
The Bisons (8-3) saw their four-game unbeaten run come to a halt to an out-of division opponent and bounced back to split the weekend and remain on top in the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s parity-ridden South.
The Mountainview Colts gave Okotoks a cold reception in doubling up the visitors 6-3 on Friday.
“We just didn’t skate. We weren’t skating that day,” said Bisons head coach Chris Beston. “We had no intensity, nothing to go off.”
The power-play was the story for both teams in Didsbury.
Okotoks went 2-for-5 on the man advantage but gave up two goals on just three shorthanded situations to Mountainview.
Captain Josh McCulloch and forwards Kyle Harrison and Robbie McLean scored in a losing cause.
Bisons goalie Devin Reagan’s unbeaten run with the club was finally snapped in the loss, turning aside 35 of 41 Colts shots.
“We didn’t help him out at all,” the coach added. “He was hung right out to dry and played a solid game.”
Okotoks dusted itself off for a strong team win in dispatching the Cubs 7-4 on Sunday in Medicine Hat. Harrison added to his team-leading totals with a two-goal effort to give him 13 in 11 games, good for third in the loop.
McCulloch chipped in with three assists, improving to 14 helpers and 22 points on the campaign.
Rookie winger Josh Russo potted his first goal while defencemen Brad Whitehead, Ben Shushkovsky and forwards Jharin Bantugan and Kyle Dunville also found the back of the net.
The latter finished an assist shy of the Gordie Howe hat-trick after getting into a spirited scrap with Cubs netminder Josh Breznik.
Reagan turned in a 31-save performance to pick up win number seven in eight starts.
“We had that one bad game and stepped up and bounced back right away,” Beston said. “The thing I like the most is you saw our young guys, Jharin got a goal, Russo got a goal, two midget guys jumped in and got goals and that helps us down the stretch as well.”
Okotoks now puts its conditioning to the test for its first three-game weekend.
The North Division leading Blackfalds Wranglers visit Big Rock Country for the first time this season on Nov. 3 followed by an Okotoks date in Cochrane to battle the Generals on Nov. 4. The herd wraps up the weekend with round two of the Battle of the Foothills as the surging High River Flyers look for their first win over the Bisons in the Nov. 5 matinee at 1:15 p.m. at the Murray.
Okotoks has a rare Tuesday tilt as well to consider as the team travels to Strathmore on Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.
“We’ve got a little bit of injuries right now, but we’re pretty resilient,” Beston said. “We will be keeping it basic with short shifts and there will be plenty of ice for everybody.”
The Okotoks Jr. B Bisons faced the unenviable task of letting one of its five 21-year-old skaters go.
Heart-and-soul defenceman Taylor McNeill was released by the club to meet the HJHL’s mandate of a maximum of four overage skaters per roster.
Okotoks was able to delay the decision when fellow overager Kyle Becker was injured in the pre-season, but his return to relative health forced team management to make its final selection.
McNeill brought toughness, consistency and a steadying presence to the back-end as a converted blueliner in 105 games over parts of four seasons with the herd.
“A lot of it was just what makes our team better and who are the 21-year-olds who make us a better hockey team,” Beston said. “It was very hard and Taylor is a friend of mine, I’ve known him a lot of years even before hockey. It was a very, very tough decision.”