Welcome to the Michael Hagen show.
The diminutive 2000-born forward put in a debut performance to remember, scoring a goal and adding three assists as the Okotoks Oilers edged the Camrose Kodiaks 4-3 to take the home opener Friday night at Pason Centennial Arena.
“You don’t really plan that, but it’s awesome. I had lots of friends and family here watching so it was really special,” said Hagen, who played Jr. B last season with the KIJHL’s Beaver Valley Nitehawks. “I tried not to let the nerves get to me. I have a bit of an advantage, I feel like I played junior last year. It’s not a huge step, but obviously a step up.
“I just tried to work hard, keep my feet moving.”
Okotoks used its speed advantage to start the divisional contest and were a bit unfortunate to be one-goal down in the opening 10 minutes.
Cody Laskosky added his sixth goal of the young season on a 2-on-1 break to get the visitors on the board.
Joel Krahenbil answered for Okotoks late in the frame, potting a rebound after Camrose’s Cole Tisdale made a pair of dynamite saves on Oilers forward Blake Jacques.
“Their D were bigger and slower so we knew if we could get pucks behind them and work a fore-check or even work a cycle on them that we would do that well,” Hagen said. “When we did that, we were all over them. They work hard and they’re a fast team, but if we’re in their end hemming them in, they can’t do anything.”
The Kodiaks restored the one-goal advantage on a Lane Brockhoff wrist shot late in the second period.
Okotoks countered with two goals on the next two shifts.
Defenceman Noah Kim scored on a point shot and 37 seconds later Hagen notched his first AJHL goal on a set up from linemates Louis Jamernik and Gibb Coady.
“When we got scored on previously, last year anyway, we would get too low sometimes,” said Jamernik. “I think with this group we’re good at bouncing back and not getting too high or too low.
“That’s something we’re going to focus on.”
Camrose evened the scored briefly in the third period through Laskosky before Okotoks took the lead for good when Hagen forced a turnover and fed Jamernik for the alternate captain’s second goal of the season.
Okotoks’ Ashton Abel made 27 saves in goal, several of the desperation variety in a mad-dash final two minutes, for his second win of the season.
Coady had three assists on the night, Jamernik had a goal and an assist and with Hagen’s exploits the trio put up nine points and were in all four goals.
“I love playing with those guys,” Jamernik said. “They just work hard, that’s all it is. There’s no laziness, they want to be first to the puck and they listen too.
“(Hagen), I’m not surprised, the guy lit it up in the pre-season against Brooks. His whole life, he was overlooked because of his size and that guy just kept grinding and grinding and he’s here now. He’s got unbelievable skill and knows how to put the puck in the net.”
Hagen, who tips the scales at 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, was a teammate of Jamernik and Oilers forward Zane Kindrachuk with the Calgary Minor Midget AAA Royals.
He played Midget AA with the Royals before plying his trade last season in B.C.
“He’s been part of our organization, he’s been coming to our spring camps for probably three years,” said Oilers head coach Tyler Deis. “He’s just had a little bit of a longer road, but we’ve always liked the way he played. He had to work his way onto the lineup, which he has.
“We always knew he had the skill and the speed to play, it’s just having that experience and that confidence to be able to do that.”
Prior to puck-drop the Oilers recognized Chad Niehaus and family for their generous donation that paid for the centre-ice jumbotron.
The homestand continues for Okotoks on Saturday night for a battle with the Canmore Eagles on Sept. 21 at Pason Centennial Arena.
* Michael Hagen. One goal, three assists and a sparkplug all night.
** Louis Jamernik. Physical, kept his feet moving and was stout at both ends.
*** Gibb Coady. Okotokian looks to have added speed and size in second season.