COCHRANE— After an offseason of uncertainty, competitive hockey has returned to Cochrane this week with a preseason exhibition game between the Airdrie-Cochrane Avalanche and the Okotoks Oilers on Saturday (Oct. 17) at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.
The season opener began on a competitive note with no teams scoring in the first period, but the Avalanche closed out the period with a significant offensive presence.
Early in the second, Okotoks’ Will Harris scored a quick one only four minutes into the period.
The AC Avalanche’s Evan Devost was able to answer back, when he found the back of the net two minutes later with a close-range blocker-side chip that snuck past the goalie.
Okotoks managed to take the lead with five minutes left in the third, and the Avalanche nearly answered that goal as well.
Jayden Gallant beat Okotoks’ goalie with a hard wrist-shot, but the puck careened off the crossbar.
Okotoks scored once more with seconds on the clock when they found the Av’s empty net.
The game closed with a score of 3-1 for the Oilers.
“As much as the players wanted to come out on top of that first game— I mean we were competitive— But, there were certainly some things that were eye-openers for boys. We’ll see how they respond in game two,” said head coach of the Avalanche, Terry Sydoryk.
Despite the loss, it was still very exciting to see hockey back in full swing, he said.
“It was exciting for everyone— It’s a long time coming. Usually at this time we’re well into league play and before that, exhibition,” he said. “For us to finally get out and finally have an exhibition game was great.”
Sydoryk said there was a lot of “pent up” demand for competitive play in the young athletes that he coaches.
“There’s development, but they ultimately are looking for that competitive aspect of playing a game. Up until this point, because of the requirements, we couldn’t play other than inside of our own camp,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily represent what the league will be like. There’s value in it, but until you actually get to play other teams— It’s great proof of where you sit and what you need to do to be competitive.”
The game was competitive, and the kids brought a lot of intensity to the ice on Saturday night, he said.
The play was physical, fast paced and several times over the course of the game the players exchanged shoves.
Sydoryk said that sort of intensity is an area that coaching staff focus on, and he was happy to see the players embracing the competitive spirit of the game in the preseason.
For kids playing at this level, in the AAA stream, many of them have aspirations of moving on to play at higher levels like Junior, semi-pro and eventually at the professional level.
“If you play like you practice, you’ll practice like you play,” Sydoryk said. “That competitive aspect has to be there in everything you do. If you want aspirations of moving on then it only gets more and more competitive. You’ve got to show that, shift in and shift out.”
Although the players were excited at the prospect of playing an actual game, Sydoryk said, he felt that some of the players were not prepared for the level of play involved in an actual game.
“I think for some of them the speed of the game and the intensity was more than they expected,” he said.
He noted he does not put a lot of pressure on the players during the opening exhibition of the season.
In the second game, he said, he can see if the players were able to learn from their previous experience and if they can take away lessons on how they need to perform individually and as a team.
Although players bring a lot of intensity to training camps and tryouts, when they compete for a spot on the roster, the play is never quite the same as the actual season, he noted.
“We see this year after year,” he said. “Until you actually play against other teams, when the level of competition actually goes up a rung or two, that’s where you start to see where you’re solid and where you need work.”
He added it’s also an opportunity for coaches to “emphasize some of the things that we’re asking for, as a proof-point to why we’re asking for certain things.”
The AC Avalanche has one more preseason game against Okotoks on Oct. 24, before the official regular-season opener on Oct. 31, which will take place in Okotoks.
The Av’s first regular-season home game is on Nov. 1, at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre at 2:45 p.m.
Current COVID-19 guidelines allow for 100 spectators at indoor events, but currently, in Okotoks, only the players and coaching staff are allowed inside the facility.
At this time, spectators are still allowed to view games in Cochrane.