A shutout for the ages has backstopped the Okotoks U17 AAA Oilers to provincial gold.
Goaltender Connor White stopped all 49 shots he faced as the Oilers held off the high-octane Fort Saskatchewan Rangers 1-0 to win the inaugural Hockey Alberta U17 AAA Provincial Championship on April 9 in St. Albert.
“It’s not many times in someone’s minor hockey career that you’ll be able to go to a provincial gold medal game at such a high calibre of hockey,” said White. “I just wanted to do everything in my power to win it for my team.
“I just tried to treat it like any other game, I felt good going in and had a good feeling before the game started.”
Nathan Flanagan scored what held up as the game-winner in the first period with the Rangers outshooting the Oilers by a 49-17 count on Easter Sunday.
“They were definitely a very high-octane offence and very well coached team as well,” said Okotoks head coach Kyle Finch. “They probably came into this tournament being the favourite, if you’re looking at it from a statistics and standings standpoint.
“It was a very exciting game to be a part of, our team played disciplined and some of the best hockey we’ve played all season and happened to do it at the right time.”
The Oilers were 2-2 through the first three days of the competition with wins over the Calgary Northstars and the host St. Albert Flyers.
Fort Saskatchewan, the top team in the North Division with just three regulation losses all season, doubled up Okotoks 10-5 in pool play the day prior.
“I think they really underestimated us that game which probably played a little bit to our benefit,” added White. “We all wanted another shot at taking down the number one team in the league and I think it was maybe a good thing we were able to play them earlier on and we could see a little bit about what they’re about.”
White posted an incredible .953 save percentage in three games at provincials, besting what was already a terrific .935 rate during the regular season.
“When you look at our elimination games in the playoffs leading up to provincials, Connor had a shutout in each elimination game,” Finch said. “And then had that legendary performance in the gold medal game, but also earlier in the tournament as well.
“It’s pretty special stuff and Connor is a very humble, amazing young man as well. He works with the minor hockey association, tutoring young goalies and is a pretty positive presence for us as the Comp as well. It really couldn’t have happened to a better young man.”
White, defenceman Wyatt Olson and forward Blair Berger were named tourmanent all-stars for Okotoks.
Okotoks, the fourth-seed in the South Division, got past Red Deer and the AC Avalanche in playoff action to get to the provincial stage.
“When you get a group of very motivated young athletes and you can get them to come together and be a family, that’s a very powerful tool,” Finch said.
White said it means a great deal to win the first U17 AAA provincial championship banner.
“It’s huge for everyone on the team,” he said. “Now every other U17 team as the league develops will know who won the first championship and that’s always going to be something that will be remembered.”
The Okotoks Oilers Athletic Association (OOAA) extended its daytime programming to the U17 AAA program for the 2022-23 season.
“The program went really well,” Finch said. “With anything new in programs, especially when you’re billeting kids from all over a big draw zone, there’s always going to be hiccups, but luckily we had some excellent people in place at the Comp and within the OOAA as well.
“It really gives the kids an opportunity to see what a junior or academy style program is like without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money and having to move away from home, or out of province sometimes.”
Finch hosted weekly study halls as well as test study sessions to make sure the players held up their bargain academically. The team also took part in a number of community involvement projects in Okotoks throughout the season.
“That was something that was really important, teaching kids not only the meaning of hard work and dedication on the ice when it comes to an athletic focus,” Finch said. “But also understanding the sense of community and the necessity to give back and be part of a bigger community.”
For more information on the program, visit ooaaoilerhockey.ca.