The Okotoks Oilers fell into a defensive shell all game long and managed to keep the offensively explosive Brooks Bandits far more subdued than they usually are, but in the end, the Bandits’ superior speed and skill were simply too much to be stopped as they skated away with a 3-0 victory and a 3-1 advantage in their AJHL playoff series.
Brooks generated a whopping 41 shots in the contest but were limited in their number of genuine scoring chances, with Okotoks seemingly learning a few lessons from Monday night’s 6-3 loss, when they allowed five goals in the 3rd period to concede the game.The Oilers were physical and determined and made the game difficult for the top players on the other team, specifically the dynamic Cale Makar.
Puck possession, however, would rule the day, as the Bandits’ dominance in that area provided them with constant control of the play, never allowing Okotoks to generate any momentum. Despite the score being only 1-0 until two empty-net goals were added in the final two minutes, this game saw one team decisively have it’s way with the other.
Cale Makar – Makar is an immensely skilled player, someone that has routinely made opposing AJHL players look foolish thanks to his dazzling skating and puck skills, so it was very interesting to watch how he handled a much different situation on Tuesday night.
Make no mistake, Okotoks made things hard on Makar, as any coach in that position wisely should have instructed. They gave him no time and space from the point, applying plenty of high pressure, and they also hung back in transition and clogged up the neutral zone, denying him the space needed for his frequent end-to-end puck rushes.
And you know what? It worked. Makar did not look very sharp this game. Right from the get-go, his point shots were not getting through, and his signature forays into the offensive zone were immediately converged upon and disrupted. This level of focused defense, with Makar as the target, might have knocked him off of his game in other areas too, as he seemed uncomfortable and began fighting the puck a lot. At one point in the second period he badly flubbed an easy transition pass up to one of his forwards, a play that he could probably do blindfolded, ten times out of ten, on most other nights. On Tuesday night, though, Okotoks had his number.
There were, however, some trademark moments of brilliance that reinforce why he is such a highly-touted player. Late in the third period Makar made a fantastic read on an Oilers defender, jumping up from his own blueline to quickly intercept a pass all the way up at center ice, sending him down the right wing on a 2-on-1 with a full head of steam. Makar elected to shoot and fired a hard shot, but the goalie fought it off. Later, with only 1:27 left to play, Makar was sent out for a defensive zone draw and the score still 1-0 for the Bandits. The faceoff was won back to Makar, who immediately flipped the puck high over everyone and to a breaking Parker Foo, who won the footrace and scored on the empty net, converting the clever set play.
There’s no doubt whatsoever that Makar is an incredibly talented prospect and a surefire first rounder, yet there are still some questions about just how effective he will be at higher levels. The quality of competition in the AJHL is wildly sporadic, so even though he can punk weak teams now while on a stacked Brooks club, will that be the same case when he gets to the powerhouse Hockey East conference and plays on a bad U-Mass Minutemen squad? The Okotoks Oilers aren’t exactly the Boston University Terriers. Then again, he was stellar for Team Canada at this past World Junior A Challenge, so the potential to elevate play in the future is there.
Parker Foo – He might not draw much attention come draft weekend in June, but Foo will be a player worth keeping an eye on once he reaches the NCAA.
A commit to Union College, Parker is the younger brother of Spencer Foo, a Hobey Baker finalist who just finished up a stint at Union and will be turning pro next season. Parker is an exciting left wing that has great acceleration and is hard to contain when he’s going full speed in a straight line. He’s a very assertive, determined player that plays with a chip on his shoulder and is really noticeable, constantly trying to attack the opposing defense when the puck is on his stick. His empty-net goal on Tuesday was an example of that, as the Oilers defender had no chance of getting to that puck first.