The Okotoks Oilers are sporting a new look up front in the new year.
Franchise single season goals and points record holder Jack Works and captain Louis Jamernik have taken their talents stateside to join the NCAA’s University of Denver Pioneers and North Dakota Fighting Hawks, respectively, for the second half of the collegiate hockey season.
"They (Denver) just called me and said I had a chance to come with the season in Alberta up in the air," said Works, in a phone interview from Denver. "They had only 14 forwards so they had room for me and they just thought it was a good chance for me to come in early and I don't lose a year of eligibility because of the rule in the NCAA.
"That's kind of how it came about."
The move south comes while the Alberta Junior Hockey League has been on pause due to provincial health regulations. Okotoks (3-0-0) got in three of its regular season games before two positive COVID-19 cases were discovered on the team in mid-November.
Due to the disrupted season, players do not lose a season of college eligibility from skating during the 2020-21 season in the NCAA.
Still, getting the head start on the NCAA wasn't an easy decision for the hard-nosed forward.
"In Alberta, it's locked down and everything and I wasn't even able to skate there or anything and I got here and it's somewhat kind of normal and we're playing games," he said. "I wouldn't say it was easy because I obviously love my teammates and wanted to have another good season with them, but it's just a tough situation."
Works, 19, leaves a big void in the scoring department having established Oilers franchise records for goals, 43, and points, 92, in a season during the 2019-20 campaign. The Yellowknife product put up 65 goals and 125 points in 118 games over parts of three seasons.
Through three games this season the 2001-born centre had four goals including a hat-trick in the team’s season opening triumph over the Calgary Canucks.
"We were skating five times a week (earlier on) and it's not like they were easy practices, we were going hard," he said. "We did play a lot of exhibition games against Brooks which were really good."
Works said he looks back on his time in Okotoks as the most fun he's ever had.
"We kind of got screwed over with this COVID thing, I though last year we could have gone really far, this year we might have been ever better," Works said. "I loved my time in Okotoks and had so much fun there, the coaches and staff, everybody was great. I really enjoyed my time."
He joins the 16th-ranked Pioneers who are off to a 4-7-1 start to the 2020-21 season, but have been one of the perennial powers in collegiate hockey with eight national titles to their credit, most recently in 2017.
Both the Pioneers and Fighting Hawks compete in the NCAA's National Collegiate Hockey Conference against the likes of Nebraska Omaha, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Colorado College.
Jamernik, named the Oilers captain prior to the start of his fourth junior season and third in Okotoks, joins the No. 3 ranked Fighting Hawks squad that features former Okotoks Oiler Jacob Bernard-Docker on the blueline.
"With UND being in the bubble, they had two guys go to the World Juniors, which already put them down, and had a bunch of injuries and actually played a game with 17 skaters," Jamernik said. "With COVID and everything going on the coaches decided they wanted to bring in an extra body and they called me a couple days before Christmas.
"It was a no-brainer, it was one of those things where I call them and they said just talk to your family first. It was a a 30-second phone call with my parents saying 'I've got this opportunity' and they said of course go and were super supportive."
The Calgarian committed to North Dakota last January and will study aviation at the Grand Forks school as he pursues a career as a commercial pilot.
The 2000-born centre registered 44 goals, 110 points in 150 games with the Oilers.
"Due to the circumstances it sucked that we couldn't play games, but I thought we really took advantage of the one or two months of just skills (work) every day and also playing small games, compete games," he said. "We did lots of skating, lots of edge-work. I thought we still were able to get the most out of it.
"I loved playing with the group we had so it was kind of a bittersweet moment leaving the team, but also it's a big opportunity for me here."
Jamernik was quick to credit everyone involved in his positive experience in the foothills from the coaching staff, teammates to his billet family the MacDonalds.
"With the group we had it was by far the best group that I've ever been a part of," he said. "I loved it in Okotoks, it was close to home, I had great billets, every day at the rink was a lot of fun. I'm going to miss it a lot."
The latest provincial health regulations announced by Premier Jason Kenney on Dec.8 are in place until at least Jan. 11.
Okotoks’ next scheduled game, should the league be allowed to return to action, is a Jan. 15 home date versus the Canucks.
For more information go to okotoksoilers.ca.