Dykstra hitting his stride in Kodiaks offence
Camrose Kodiaks forward Colby Wolter rings one off the crossbar on a penalty shot on Okotoks Oilers goalie Ben Howard in Alberta Junior Hockey league action in Camrose on Oct. 7. Okotoks won 3-2 to remain undefeated. Sean Mascaluk/ Pro Sports Photography
Matt Dykstra entered this Alberta Junior Hockey League season needing to answer questions.
The 20-year-old forward was acquired by the Camrose Kodiaks in the summer, completing an earlier deal with the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Last year ended early for him with a broken fibula in his left leg. He was not even able to play with the club during the preseason. He is out to show himself, the league and scouts he is still a force to be reckoned with.
He is starting to catch fire with six points in his last five games, including three points in their 8-7 overtime loss to the Olds Grizzlys on Friday and highlight reel goal in their 3-2 loss to the Okotoks Oilers on Saturday.
Dykstra is fitting right in with the Kodiaks’ game plan, which on most nights has been an attempt to win byburying as many pucks in the net.
“We’ve got a lot of offensive fire power up front and it’s a lot of fun” he said. “We’ve just got to learn to play the … D-side and I think we’ll get hot.”
He had a solid rookie campaign in 2014-15 with the Calgary Canucks, but tried to make the jump to the Western Hockey League the next season and was held off the score sheet in 12 games. He returned to the AJHL with the Crusaders and scored five points (three goals, two assists) in 21 games. Last season, he had his breakthrough, scoring 52 points (18-36-52) in 59 games. But his season was cut short when he was tripped up driving the net against the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the first round of the playoffs and he went flying into the boards. He required surgery to fix the break.
Without much off-season training or a training camp, he is starting to find his groove with the Kodiaks, putting up eight points (5-3-8) in 10 games, tied for fourth on the team in scoring.
Much of his resurgence has come in the last few games on a line with Kyler Kupka and Nic Correale. In Friday’s overtime loss in Olds, they accounted for 10 points (4-6-10), and were dangerous again on Saturday as the line accounted for both goals for the Kodiaks.
“We know we’re on a roll, we’re a pretty skilled line and we are just looking to find each other in good spots and put the puck in the net,” said Dykstra, who is still looking for a Canadian college or university scholarship. “We’ve got to play on the backside of the puck first and the offence will come.”
Kodiaks head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka likes what he has seen from the veteran forward, who he was hoping could help fill the hole left by Bryson Traptow who graduated last year.
“We knew he was going to be slow to start the season and now we’re seeing the Dykstra we knew,” said Rybalka.
“I just see him continuing to grow and get better and better as the year goes on.”
The Kodiaks are fifth in the AJHL South Division and are still looking for consistency in their game. They have struggled putting together 60-minute efforts and have paid for it when the foot has come off the gas pedal. Against Olds they had a two-goal lead in the third period before eventually losing in overtime. Against the Oilers — the league’s only undefeated team — they were in control with a 2-1 lead in the third period before allowing Okotoks back into the game.
“There’s 19 new bodies in this dressing room, we knew there was going to be an adjustment period … you’re always aware of it, but it would be different if we weren’t always getting better and learning,” said Rybalka.
One issue that has crept up has been between the pipes. Their goalies struggled in Olds, allowing eight goals on 20 shots — Griffin Bowerman started the game and allowed three goals on three shots before being lifted for Landon Pavlisin. But Rybalka came back with Bowerman on Saturday, and the rookie goalie looked much better — two of the goals against were on deflections in close, while the other was a scramble in front of the net.
“We always say we’re not going to point the finger at anybody, that’s where the other guys pick it up, it’s the same as when the defencemen aren’t playing well, the goalie picks it up,” said Rybalka.
The Kodiaks host the Calgary Mustangs on Friday at 7 p.m. and then are in Drumheller to play the Dragons at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
NOTES — Three AJHL defencemen made Central Scouting’s initial NHL draft prospects list. Spruce Grove Saint Sean Comrie, Lloydminster Bobcat Daniel Hilsendager and Okotoks Oiler Jacob Bernard-Docker were all given a C rating, meaning a fourth to sixth round grading.