The Okotoks Oilers ensured deadline day was punctuated on and not off the ice.
With trade activity throughout the provincial loop, the Oilers (32-6-3, 2nd in South Division) got the ultimate vote of confidence in their current group as Jan. 10 came and went without any transactions from the Alberta Junior Hockey League team.
“This is the team,” said Oilers head coach and general manager Tyler Deis. “From that Dec. 1 to Jan. 10 you make sure you know where you’re at and what you want to do and we feel comfortable with the team right now.
“The team is playing well, they're gelling well together, the chemistry is good and I think we’re going to give it a good shot with the group we’ve got.”
The Oilers made their biggest transactions of the season in advance of the December roster cut down deadline, trading for forward Liam Freeborn along with the additions of WHL veterans Brandon Machado and Nic Draffin.
The quiet deadline day came as no surprise in the dressing room.
“I think Deis knows what he’s doing and he chose the players on the team for a reason,” said Oilers captain Ayden Roche-Setoguchi. “That’s why we don’t usually like to trade a lot of players. He’s a really good coach and has developed a lot of players so that helps a lot.”
Earlier this month, Okotoks brought on board blueliner Coltan Wilkie from Madison in the USHL. The 2000-born defenceman is a Colorado College commit.
On Jan. 6, the Oilers traded rookie defenceman Jordan Wood to the Lloydminster Bobcats for future considerations. The 2001-born blueliner from Winnipeg had three assists in 27 games with Okotoks.
“Wood was a little younger and we just wanted to make sure we have more depth in the back-end,” Deis added. “In the case of injuries or anything, like last year we had a lot of injuries on the defence so we wanted to make sure we solidified that seven there.”
Along with strong puck moving ability and tenacity, Wilkie brings hockey pedigree to the ice as the son of former NHLer and Memorial Cup champion David Wilkie. Coltan’s older brother Chris is a Florida Panthers draft pick.
“My upbringing was always hockey and around (dad’s) team, whether he was playing or coaching,” Wilkie said. “It was cool to be around those older guys and learn from them and be in that hockey environment, it was instrumental to me growing up.”
The Nebraska product played his AAA hockey in Omaha prior to embarking on his junior journey in the NAHL with Corpus Christi before skating in Madison.
The opportunity to play junior north of the border was too good to pass up.
“After I went home for Christmas me and family looked over everything and we thought Okotoks was the best place to come for me and my development,” Wilkie said. “The coaching, for sure, the environment is awesome and a big factor for me was playing up in Canada. You don’t get that experience many times.”
In four games with the Oilers, Wilkie has been part of the team’s impressive stretch with wins over Brooks, an 8-1 romp over Camrose followed by convincing wins over Spruce Grove and Fort McMurray this weekend.
“I’ve loved it so far,” Wilkie said. “The guys are unbelievable. It’s really good to join a team so late and they can pull you in like family already.
“I love them and think it’s a great group and that we have a chance to go all the way.”
Okotoks put up one of its most complete efforts of the season in a 5-2 victory over the Saints in a battle of second-placed teams on Jan. 10 at Pason Centennial Arena.
“We’re going at teams here,” said Deis after the win over the Saints. “Our decision making and our puck management is really good right now.
“There are still areas we can get better at, but I like where we’re headed.”
Jack Works, Brayden Morrison, Marc Pasemko, Freeborn and Zane Kindrachuk provided the offence as Okotoks managed to get to Saints netminder Matthew Davis.
Brady Parker made 15 saves for his 11th win of the season.
“Just keep it simple and get pucks deep,” Roche-Setoguchi said. “We were up against a really good goalie so we tried to get pucks on him and create a lot of pressure on him. That was the game plan.
“You get hyped up a little more for these bigger games and playing with that momentum and using our speed and getting shots on net.”
Okotoks then got past Fort McMurray 2-1 in a tight checking affair on Jan. 11.
Freeborn scored to extend his goal streak to five games with Louis Jamernik adding the other marker. Rookie netminder Parker Sawka made 21 saves in goal to pick up his first win in the AJHL.
“I think we’ve just been building off each game, playing better and better and playing simple,” said Roche-Setoguchi. “We’ve been getting a pretty good fan base as of recently so it’s been nice, momentum helps a lot.”
Okotoks is home to the Calgary Canucks on Jan. 14 before playing its next six games on the road.
For more information go to okotoksoilers.ca