Kodiaks season ends with sweep by Oilers
Camrose Kodiaks Nic Correale gets a shot off from his knees on Okotoks Oilers goalie Riley Morris during Game 3 of their Alberta Junior Hockey League playoff series in Camrose on March 12. Okotoks won 2-1 to sweep the series 3-0. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
The Camrose Kodiaks deserved a better fate, at the very least a fourth game.
The Kodiaks out-played the Okotoks Oilers in Game 3 of their opening best-of-five Alberta Junior Hockey League playoff series, but could not bury their chances. In the end, they lost 2-1 and were swept aside in three games.
“It’s a tough one because it’s not what we expected, it’s not what we wanted, we as a leadership group and a staff, we believed we could do it,” said Kodiaks head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka. “We needed all of those athletes to believe they could do it, and that’s the big one.”
Despite losing the battle on the shot clock, the Kodiaks were the better team on Sunday at Encana Arena. They out chanced the Oilers all game, particularly over the final two periods, but could not beat Riley Morris in the Okotoks net.
Nolan Thompson and Jordan Xavier scored for the Oilers while Morris made 28 saves.
Cooper Johnson scored the lone goal for Camrose while Patrick Gora made 30 saves in the loss.
Kodiaks winger Nic Correale was arguably the best player on the ice for either team, but he was particularly snake bitten.
“For sure it’s frustrating not scoring, but I’ve had a couple of years in the league and I know it doesn’t get any better if you get frustrated with yourself,” said Correale. “You’ve just got to keep going and if you get the chance you’ve got to relax and take your time with it, you can’t be frantic or frustrated with yourself, you’ve just got to believe in yourself every shift.”
The turning point of the game came at 14:50 of the second period. The Kodiaks appeared to have scored a goal to take a 1-0 lead as Mackenzie Bauer crashed the Okotoks net. The ref disagreed, though the puck was clearly across the line when the pile of players was pulled apart. On the next shift, The Oilers took the puck back down the ice and after a scramble in the crease Brandan Voss jumped in to clear the puck. But in doing so he closed his hand on the puck in the crease and Okotoks was awarded a penalty shot, and Thompson made no mistake, sliding the puck five hole on Gora.
The Kodiaks did respond with a strong shift and finished out the period well, however the hole became too big to dig out when Xavier scored at 6:29 of the third period to put Okotoks up 2-0.
Johnson did manage to finally break the goose egg at 17:16, as a Jacob Kendall shot deflected to him at the side of the net, but that’s as close as the Kodiaks got.
“That’s the bounces in the game,” said Rybalka. “You can’t cry over spilled milk. We had our chances … there’s quite a few of our guys who had chances where they had two or three goals possibly on their sticks.”
This season became all about battling through adversity. Backup goalie Joseph May was recognized for his efforts before the game with the AJHL’s Stewy Stewart Memorial Award for the way he has persevered through the news of his mother’s diagnosis of terminal brain cancer prior to the season. He and his twin brother, forward Eddie May, were an very active part of the community and were constantly looking for ways to give back.
The club also dealt with a cruel string of injuries that took five of their top forwards out of the lineup for most of the second half of the season. Then, just as all but Kyler Kupka returned from the infirmary, they lost top pairing defenceman Jack McCool to a broken arm in the last practice before playoffs.
Still it was not an excuse they were willing to lean on as TJ Brown, captain Jack Thomas and Joseph Tambasco elevated their play to fill the void.
“When you lose a guy like McCool it’s tough on everyone, but I think we handled it pretty well; other guys stepped up and took a bigger load,” said Thomas.
The Kodiaks lost Game 1 of the series 3-2 in double overtime and then lost 7-1 in Game 2, both games were in Okotoks.
The Kodiaks now head into the offseason with a number of big holes to fill as they will lose eight players to graduation — Gora, Thomas, Tambasco, Bauer, Brown, Bryson Traptow and Josh Zablocki — and the chances are there will be more player movement in the offseason as Rybalka retools for next season. Spring camp goes April 7 in Camrose.
“Even though we could possibly have 15 or 16 guys back, they all won’t be back,” said Rybalka, referring to regulations about numbers of 20 year olds and U18 players that must be on the roster. “We know we’re going to have to do some work and we’ve already started that with the recruiting process.”
Thomas played three seasons and 159 games with the Kodiaks. Being a member of the organization is something that has become a part of who the Calgary native is.
“It’s meant everything to me,” said Thomas. “It’s such an honour to be a part of this organization and all of the guys who are in it, from the trainers to the coaches, everyone’s been so professional and good to me. There’s so many life skills that you learn here, it’s unbelievable. You learn so many things, not just hockey, it progresses into life.”