Be it ever so humbling to try out for one of the best Junior B teams in Alberta, there is no place like home.
Daniel Tainton, Kyle Newnham, Simon Smith-Burness and Ivan Chtchadov attended the Okotoks Bisons training camp last week in an attempt to make the Heritage Junior Hockey League team after playing their final season with the Bow Mark Oilers last year.
“It’s my hometown,” said 18-year-old forward Tainton, who had six goals and seven assists with Bow Mark last year. “Families here, friends, I want to play in front of them and not go anywhere else.
“I always used to come and watch these games with my friends and I thought it would would be good to stay in my hometown and play hockey.”
They are Bison hopefuls – they all say there is plenty of work to be done before final cuts are made this week. It's a tough gig -- Okotoks was the top team in the league when the season was cut short on March 12 due to COVID-19.
“I just want to make the team, first of all,” said Smith-Burness (6G, 7A). “Moving forward, I just will play the role that is given to me.”
Smith-Burness is a relative newcomer to Okotoks, moving to the community as a Bantam player. He said staying in town was his main goal after graduation from the Bow Mark Oilers.
“There is no desire to try out for another league, when you have a good team right here,” Smith-Burness said.
Newnham (4G, 2A) said he’s not taking anything for granted. His goal is to wear the Bisons’ sweater. It’s a sweater that has had plenty of wins over the year.
“It’s good to have the opportunity on a team that has had such great success,” Newnham said. “And they look good this year…
"Not every person gets the chance to play in their hometown. I just felt that it was a better idea to stay. I had my mind to come here before COVID took off, but it just solidified my decision.”
He got a taste of how good when he was on the losing side of a 16-6 decision during an intrasquad game last week.
So what did he take away from that game?
“That Tyson Scott is good – he’s real good,” Newnham said with a laugh.
Scott, a Turner Valley product, was the leading scorer in the Heritage league last season with 88 points last season. Linemates Tyler Alger and Tyler Witzke were second and third, respectively.
Newnham and Smith-Burness played one game with the Bisons last season – an overtime loss to the Cochrane Generals on March 12. The game got in just minutes before the 2019-20 campaign was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“It was fast-paced, it was surprising, but not at the same time,” Newnham said. “I thought there was going to be a huge difference body size. There was a physical difference, but I didn’t feel any different playing.”
Chtchadov (6G, 7A) said his Bisons' camp has gone well.
“It’s obviously bigger and faster, it doesn’t matter if it’s Junior B or Junior A, but I think I am doing fairly well so far,” Chtchadov said. “If I can crack the roster, I think I will improve a lot in my hockey and I will just grow as an individual as well.
“Not a lot of people get to play hockey, so I am excited.”
He credits the Bow Mark Oilers in making him a better person, not just a better player.
"A lot of the volunteer work helped me get a different perspective for the community I live in," Chtchadov said.
Bisons head coach Chris Beston said having four graduating Bow Mark Oilers tryout is unprecedented, but welcomed, news.
“What we have been striving to do is keep the local talent here, if they don’t play Junior A, we want to make the Bisons the place they want to play,” Beston said. “We affiliate the Bow Mark Oilers who don’t affiliate Junior A, maybe get them out to game or practice.
“We work close with the AAs as well. Let them know that this is a place we can develop.”
He said the last few years, the Bisons have been able to move a player to college in the States.
It’s also a team in which players can combine academics and hockey. Witzke studied engineering while playing for the Bisons last season.
Beston kept his cards close to his vest when asked if the Bow Mark grads would make the squad.
“They have as good of chance as any,” Beston said. “They have played well, all the young kids in camp have played well so far. There are a lot of roster spots, we can carry 25 kids.”
The Bisons will be trimming down their roster on Sept. 15.
For more information go to okotoksbisons.com.