The dominant force in the Heritage is onto the second season.
The Okotoks Bisons (35-2-1) closed out the 2019-20 Heritage Junior Hockey League with a 7-0 shutout over Lomond on Feb. 9 to finish the season with 71 points, the most in the Jr. B loop in 14 years.
“The team is a very talented team and they actually worked very hard all year long,” said Bisons head coach Chris Beston. “Credit to them, they battled through a little bit of adversity, not all of the games were blowouts.
“We dug deep and we’re kind of waiting for this next season to start.”
Okotoks produced its second-highest wins total in its 25 years in the HJHL, second only to its 36 victories in the 2005-06 campaign.
In the past 14 seasons in the Heritage, only two teams have met or surpassed the 35-win and 70-point plateau, the 2020 Bisons and last year’s champion 2019 Airdrie Thunder.
“Overall it went really well, we would have rather lost the games we did and taken them on the cheek as a learning experience – which we did,” said Bisons blueliner Nic Jordan. “It really humbled us and we know we’re not the perfect hockey team.
“We just want to get better every day and that’s what we’re trying to do and build our best game for the playoffs and I think we're in a good spot.”
Okotoks locked up first place in the league in January and haven’t had a ton to play for in the final stretch, making for some challenging games against teams battling for playoff positioning.
“That’s kind of the challenge we’ve had all year, we get up on teams, we’re way ahead and kind of not really playing for anything,” Beston said. “We’re trying to dig deep and trying everything to stay motivated and stay in the present.”
In the regular season finale, Casey Thomson made 19 saves for his second shutout in just three starts with Okotoks.
At the other end of the ice, HJHL top scorer Tyson Scott added two goals to up his season total to 41 while Jagger Thiessen, Evan Woods, Austin O’Bray and Kyle Harrison found the back of the net. Matt Baba – a goalie playing just his second game at forward — also scored his first career goal and added an assist.
Okotoks saw its perfect home record snapped on Feb. 7 in the final Battle of the Foothills of the season.
Layne Sniher and Jake Snashall scored in the shootout as the High River Flyers edged Okotoks 4-3 to give the Bisons their first loss in 18 games at the Murray Arena as well as its first defeat in Southern Division action all season.
“I think it gives us a reality check,” Beston said. “We can’t have any nights off, any team can beat us no matter what. If we take a night off or a shift off, guys will capitalize on it.”
Flyers goalie Davyn LaRocke had his fingerprints all over the upset victory, with 53 saves on 56 shots.
Scott, Tyler Alger and captain Tyler Witzke scored in regulation for Okotoks while Devin Reagan had 31 saves on the night.
Despite the loss, Reagan’s 30 wins is the most in the league for the second time in his three-years with Okotoks.
Reagan’s 67 career wins places him tied for third all-time among Bisons caged warriors behind only Christian Chivilo and Jason Michielsen. The 20-year-old’s 10 career shutouts is tied for the franchise high with Alex Bilton.
Prior to puck-drop on Friday, Jordan was recognized for earning the Friends of the Alberta Junior Hockey Society scholarship, an amount totalling $1,500, for his dedication on and off the ice.
The affable Pincher Creek native and Mount Royal student took the award in stride.
“It was kind of humbling, I’m really thankful to get it and I really appreciate it,” said Jordan, a physical literacy student at MRU.
Off the ice, Jordan has made a point of giving back to the sports community.
“With the team, when we had Kraft Hockeyville we went and helped coach the teams, the local Beaver scouts groups we went and hung out with them for a day in the gym,” he said. “And then back home in Pincher Creek, I’ve coached a high school baseball team and helped out there for the last couple years.
“Just trying to help out where I can.”
The HJHL post-season gets underway this week with the top two teams in both divisions getting a well deserved break with first-round byes.
“I think that’s going to help us this year,” Beston said of the bye. “I think we’ve got to work a little bit in practice, getting everything honed in, get our compete level up.
“We know we’re going to be facing tough competition from the first round.
The fourth-seed Coaldale battles High River in the 4 vs. 5 meeting and in the 3 vs. 6 fixture the provincial host Medicine Hat Cubs tango with the Strathmore Wheatland Kings.
“We know everyone starts at zero wins, it’s zero-zero to start and we know those teams, Coaldale, Cochrane, Medicine Hat – they’re all going to come out firing,” Jordan said. “We’re going to bring our A-game and be ready for anything they have.”
In the Northern Division, the top seeds Airdrie and the Red Deer Vipers are idle while the 3 vs. 6 match-up features the Sylvan Lake Wranglers and Rocky Rams and the 4 vs. 5 clash pits the Mountainview Colts and Stettler Lightning.
“We’re a high-skilled team, it’s going to be a battle for us,” Beston said. “We’ve got to learn to play in the dirty areas a little bit better, learn to play tight checking, hard-hitting games.
“I think we will play well, it’s just a matter of digging deep.”
For more information go to okotoksbisons.com