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Oilers outlast Bandits to clinch first in South in gutsy home finale

Hockey: Okotoks gets past Brooks in South Division heavyweight tilt
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The Green and Gold rewarded its faithful one last time before playoffs.

The Okotoks Oilers (45-7-4) made their regular season home finale one to remember by knocking off the Brooks Bandits (44-10-2) by a 4-3 count on Friday in front of 1,589 supporters at Pason Centennial Arena and clinching first in the AJHL South Division with four points separating the teams and two games left to play.

"This was our last game at the Pason and it's nice to put on a good show for the fans," said Oilers forward Liam Freeborn. "It was huge going into playoffs to set the tone for the team."

Okotoks improved to 5-1-1 against Brooks this season, including five straight victories over the defending league champions in the new year.

"Two pretty competitive teams, both teams are really good so it makes it really easy to get up for and it's a really fast, physical game out there," Freeborn said. "They're one of our rivals, it's the top two teams in the league, I would say, and all the guys just really get excited for it, we bond together and fight to win."

The Oilers needed that full team effort on Friday with three key components out of the lineup as captain Ayden Roche-Setoguchi was serving the first game of a three-game suspension and wingers Marc Pasemko and Zane Kindrachuk were injured.

"We knew first place was on the line," said Oilers defenceman Noah Kim. "And missing those three big guys it was huge that other guys stepped up, especially right before we go into playoffs."

Brooks opened the scoring in dramatic fashion as sniper Brayden Krieger converted on a penalty shot at the 7:40 mark of the first period.

Okotoks wrestled back momentum with two powerplay goals late in the opening stanza as Brooks was forced to kill off a five-minute major after blueliner Jake Kustra was levied a game-misconduct for a high cross-check on Freeborn in front of goal.

Freeborn got the revenge on the scoreboard, evening the score at 1-1, and then took another cross-check for good measure from Bandits captain Jakob Lee.

Kim then gave Okotoks its first lead with a bit of a lucky bounce on a shot from the neutral zone.

"I was actually going for a change, but someone passed it to me so then I crossed the red and shot it from there," Kim said. "I think one of their guys tipped it in, lucky one, but I will take it.

"I think that's where we took over the game. Our powerplay has been struggling a little bit, but it was nice to get two of those right there."

The Bandits had the better of the play for most of the second period and were back even at 2-2 on Ryan McAllister's powerplay tally.

The pendulum swung back the way of the hosts in the final 20 minutes as Okotoks got on the forecheck and rolled four lines extremely effectively.

Jack Works restored Okotoks' lead at the 8:34 mark with his team leading 41st goal of the season and Eric Parker doubled the advantage less than two minutes later on a shot from the point.

Krieger cut the lead in half with his second goal of the night, but that's as close as the visitors would get as Brady Parker stopped 29 of 32 shots for his 22nd win of the season.

"In the room we just said keep it simple, we're running around a bit and kind of panicking," said Freeborn on the third period surge. "If we keep it simple we make it easy out there, that was the gameplan going into it."

Okotoks is in Drumheller on Feb. 23 and in Canmore on Feb. 25 to close the regular season. Brooks also has two games remaining but Okotoks owns the tiebreaker advantage of regulation wins with 41 to Brooks' 38.

In the overall race to first in the AJHL, Okotoks has a two point edge on Sherwood Park with the Crusaders owning two games in hand.

For more information go to okotoksoilers.ca




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Remy Greer

About the Author: Remy Greer

Remy Greer is the assistant editor and sports reporter for Okotokstoday.ca and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact rgreer@okotoks.greatwest.ca
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