The early returns are positive as the Green and Gold step closer to puck drop.
The Okotoks Oilers capped off three wins in a five-day exhibition set with the Calgary Canucks in a 5-0 romp on Sept. 4 in the Stampede City with a mix of prospects and veterans making their mark in the Alberta Junior Hockey League pre-season.
“We’re still trying to figure out our lines, with preseason the tempo went up from camp,” said Bowden Singleton, one of just five returning forwards on the roster. “Getting touches in front of the net, feeling out our finish and breakouts and stuff. Leading by example, blocking shots.
“The energy is high, we’ve still got lots of bodies so practices are hard and so are the games right now.”
Okotoks opened exhibition play by knocking off Calgary by a 3-1 count on Aug. 31 at the Cardel Rec Centre.
Okotoks minor hockey grad Brody Spencer-Ha opened the scoring, blueliner Bennett Johnson added the second tally and Ethan Jamernik notched the empty-netter in the victory.
Okotoks returned home to play in front of a good sized crowd on Sept. 3 and rewarded the Oilers faithful with another 3-1 triumph.
“We never got to play in front of a crowd last year,” Singleton said. “So the nerves were up a little bit in the first period, but we settled down in the second and it was good.”
The Calgary Flames AAA product Jagger Tapper broke the scoreless deadlock in the second period, picking off a pass and snapping a wrist shot past Calgary’s Sam Philpott in goal.
“The home rink is always a lot better with all the fans and everything,” Tapper said. “I like that and I think it helped me out a lot.”
In the final stanza, Tapper had a shift for the ages.
First, the speedy forward erased a breakaway opportunity with a stellar backcheck then at the other end of the ice threw a massive hit behind the Canucks net and drew a retaliation penalty.
“I try to do that every game,” he said. “Drawing penalties is always good, you get the bigger guys to go out there and score on the powerplay, that’s always nice.”
The Canucks drew even through Okotokian Easton Inglis midway through the final frame with the Oilers restoring the lead just 90 seconds later.
Ryan Neumann, another Flames AAA player, buried a rebound after linemate Dean Spak put the puck on goal. Singleton then wrapped up the win on an empty-netter.
Goaltender Austin Zavoda had a 14-save shutout through 40 minutes with Alexander Scheiweller coming on in the third period stopping four of five shots.
As the exhibition series shifted to Calgary’s Henry Viney Arena the following the night, the Oilers put an exclamation point on the week via the five-goal victory.
Zavoda and Cameron Doucette combined for the shutout while Okotoks spread out the offence with Spak, Jamernik, Neumann, Conyr Hellyer and blueliner Gehrig Lindberg finding the back of the net.
“It’s been good,” Singleton added. “We’re super young, but we’ll start to figure it out here and learn the system and all of that.
“We’ve just got to show the younger guys the way and bring them up and progress together because we’re going to win as a team, not as individuals.”
The exhibition action continues this weekend with a home-and-home set versus the Brooks Bandits. The Oilers are on the road on Sept. 10 and face-off at the Scott Seaman Sports Rink in Davisburg on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. in the return leg.
The regular season opens the following weekend with Okotoks visiting Camrose on Sept. 17-18.
For more information go to okotoksoilers.ca.