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Okotoks Bisons win provincial gold in seesaw thriller

Okotoks scores three in final seven minutes to win Alberta Junior B Provincial banner
The Carstar Okotoks Bisons won the 2024 Hockey Alberta Junior B Provincial Championship with a 6-3 win over La Crete on April 7 in Peace River.

The provincial drive is complete for the Carstar Okotoks Bisons.

Okotoks scored three unanswered in the final seven minutes of the third period to double up the La Crete Lumber Barons 6-3 and capture the 2024 Hockey Alberta Junior B Provincial championship Sunday afternoon in Peace River.

“Everyone knew we were going to do it, everyone had that feeling it was going to happen and that it was our year,” said Bisons captain Lucas Watkins. “(Connor) Claughton hadn’t scored all year and then he gets the game-winning goal, and we knew after that it was our year and we’re going to win it.”

La Crete, the only undefeated team entering the medal round, got the early jump with first period tallies in quick succession from Matthew Bergen and Tobias Driedger.

Okotoks cut the lead in half with Watkins striking for his first of two tallies.

The Bisons knotted the score at 2-2 five minutes into the second period with Jady Shigehiro scoring his team-best fourth goal of the competition.

Watkins gave Okotoks the lead with the captain and forward Adam Kirkpatrick’s relentless work on the penalty kill leading to a hard-working tally with 3:13 left in the middle frame.

Claughton scored what held up as the game winner with 6:59 left in the third with Scott Brown adding an insurance marker on the powerplay with under four minutes left in regulation. The gritty forward then put the game to bed with an empty-netter.

“It’s extremely tough to win that tournament,” said Bisons head coach Brad Cobb. “A lot of things have to line up properly and this year happened to line up right for us.

“That helped, being there the last couple years, and that fear of losing was probably a little bit of an extra motivator for them.”

Offence from the defence was a theme all week for the herd with a combined eight goals and 20 points from the back-end.

Blueliner Kegan Law scored the overtime winner in the Battle of the Bisons on Saturday, a 4-3 win over the defending champion Wainwright, to catapult Okotoks into the gold medal game.

“That gave us some momentum going into the final, for sure,” Cobb said. “Wainwright ruined our parade there last year, so it was nice to get another crack at them. They’re a great organization as well, a good team, well coached.”

Watkins tied for the team lead with four goals and seven points in his final weekend with the squad for the graduating rearguard.

The Bisons were 3-1 in round-robin with a 6-5 win over the St. Albert Merchants, a 5-1 loss to La Crete, 5-3 triumph over the host North Peace Navigators and 4-3 overtime victory over Wainwright.

“We got scored on first every single game in the tournament and the last two games, we were down 2-0 in both of them,” Watkins said. “All year, we’re usually scoring first and having leads on teams so it was a different animal.

“The teams are all good at provincials, you have to up your level and it was just great resilience from the group to be able to come back from those early deficits in every game.”

History has a way of repeating itself.

Okotoks’ only previous provincial gold medal in 2013, which also occurred on April 7, came one year after the team hosted the competition and won silver before finishing the job the following spring.

“It feels amazing,” Watkins added. “The last three years, it’s been our goal to win it all at provincials. We’ve come up short the last few years, losing in the final stung, especially on home ice with the chance to win it in front of our fans, but it almost feels sweeter now winning it this year after coming so close the years before.

“Last year, we had a bunch of older guys and if we had won the provincial final last year I’m not sure how many guys would have come back this year. It was definitely a motivation factor.”

The provincial gold was the only thing missing from the resume of Okotoks’ three-year players, Watkins, Law, Brown, Kirkpatrick, Brayden Kapty, Daniel Tainton and Jake Snashall, who’ve won three straight HJHL championships along with a provincial medal of every colour.

“It’s pretty special,” said Cobb. “You’re with that core group for three years and, for me some longer history than that when I coached a few of them when they were 13 and 14 years old. There’s a lot of history there and it’s a pretty tight group so I was pretty happy for them.”

Watkins, Brown, Kapty and Tainton graduate from the program with an unmatched level of success.

“They’re the cog in the wheel, they’re the ones that bought in three years ago to the structure and the way we wanted to play,” Cobb said. “And they just led this team the last three seasons. Whenever there was a little dip in the process, they were right there to make sure the next game they were working harder and helping lead this group right to the bitter end.”

Cobb said winning this title with his son Hunter, a rookie defenceman on the team, is truly special.

“That’s pretty incredible to go through that process with him as a player and as a son,” the coach added. “That’s right up there in my hockey (career) to be able to finish it off with him.”

Okotoks has now won 10 medals on the provincial stage in team history (two gold, four silver and four bronze).

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Remy Greer

About the Author: Remy Greer

Remy Greer is the assistant editor and sports reporter for and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact [email protected]
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