Rookies raring for first taste of post-season
Hockey: Okotoks freshmen expecting different ballgame in HJHL playoffs
Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018 06:00 am
When the second season tips off it will be a first for nearly half of the Okotoks Bisons.
The Bisons boast 10 skaters new to the team and six in their first year of junior hockey as they get set to step on the ice for the second-round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League post-season.
“Just enjoy it,” advised Bisons veteran defenceman Taylor McNeill. “The intensity picks up and it’s the most fun hockey you will play, there is no hockey like playoff hockey.
“It’s a different game, a lot more hitting, a lot faster play, lots more intensity and you’ve just got to come prepared for every game. You tell the guys it’s do-or-die time in the playoffs, you’re fighting for your life, every battle is a fight and you go to war pretty much every game.”
For rookie blueliner Bryan Weber it’s a matter of keeping it simple on the ice and not straying from what makes you successful.
“Work hard, play a team game and just do my job and stick to the same game-plan we’ve been playing all year,” said Weber, one of five 1999 born players on the roster. “I’ve won cities in Midget AA, won cities a few times so I’m pretty experienced in the playoffs.
“The speed and the intensity, everyone is going out there to win. Nobody is taking a shift off. A lot more intensity, a lot more speed and aggression between the players and chippiness, just a battle.
“We’re a big, fast, strong, mean team. We’re going to do well in the playoffs.”
Six-foot-four freshman defenceman Joel Deeprose expects to play in games like he’s never experienced before.
“It’s definitely going to be different than what I’ve played before in Midget AA,” Deeprose said. “The atmosphere where we’re always travelling back and forth is a lot different than playing at Max Bell or constantly being at the same rink.
“Going into the other teams’ home rinks is going to be tough for us to play there, but we have to keep our heads in it and not worry about being at home or away.”
The trick for the Bisons will be to find that extra-level without going over the line.
Discipline was the team’s biggest issue in the regular season, reflected by the 1,085 penalty minutes in its 36 games.
“The intensity is going to be a lot higher, but we’re going to play with more control,” Deeprose added. “Make smarter plays and not just be out here trying to score goals, we need to play defence as well.
“There are aspects that do need to be changed coming into playoffs like intensity and taking responsibility for penalties, discipline. It’s definitely a big thing to stay out of the box in the playoffs, we can’t let other teams drag us into their physical play.”
The second seed in the Southern Division, Okotoks is off this weekend with a bye through the first-round of the playoffs. They will get back on the ice for the best-of-seven second round series.
“It’s a nice testament to your season, first or second place gets the bye,” McNeill said. “You work hard for that and it shows you can beat any team in this league. You’ve just go to work hard in practice throughout the week to not get sloppy when you come back.”