The Okotoks Bisons left a banner first impression in a rematch of last year’s league finals.
Jake Snashall scored a hat-trick to lift the Okotoks Carstar Bisons to a 6-4 triumph over the Cochrane Generals to open the 2022-23 regular season in a Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) heavyweight tilt Friday night at the Murray Arena.
“It was extra special for us tonight,” said Bisons head coach Brad Cobb. “We were a little concerned with doing the banner presentation before the game, that can fuel the fire for the opposition – especially when that’s the team you beat.
“But I thought our first 10 minutes went exceptionally well and as soon as we got those first couple goals, we were good.”
Prior to puck-drop, the Bisons were presented with their championship banner from the 2021-22 season along with a ceremonial puck-drop commemorating the new title sponsorship with Carstar Okotoks.
“It was electric out there, from the puck drop, even before that with the ceremony and seeing that banner out there and some of the vets from last year were here,” Snashall said. “It’s great to be back with the guys and to have that winning mentality again. We’re running it back again this year.”
A high-octane first period saw the Southern Division foes put up six on the scoreboard with Snashall scoring twice, rookie defenceman Avery Greig tallying his first junior goal and Ethan MacIntyre striking his first with the Bisons. Riley Hopper and Patrick Forde countered for the Generals.
“We came out strong and played fast as a group together,” Snashall said. “We played hard, we were in their face and had good chances all over the tonight and I think we can just grow from here.
“There’s lots of things we can learn from and that’s a great start, great first game.”
Snashall completed the hat-trick midway through the middle frame.
“Coming in this year with a new group of guys it’s great to be back just in general,” he said. “It’s not about the hat-trick or personal goals, it’s to get that first win under our belt as a team together.
“It’s huge and I couldn’t have done it without the guys around me, big props to the boys.”
Snashall, a 19-year-old from Calgary, has been one of the early standouts for the coaching staff throughout the pre-season.
“He’s come to camp ready to play this year,” Cobb said. “He’s moving his feet and committed to doing the right things. He’s a second-year player now so there’s more expectation on him and he’s answered that so far.”
Forde and Jamal Kalaf found the back of the net in the second period to cut the deficit to one before Okotoks restored the two-goal advantage on a 5-on-3 powerplay through AJ Belanger.
“I thought it was a great performance by every player on our team,” said Cobb. “Guys were playing structurally really well and it was very positive with lots of energy, that was key.
“And good discipline, normally we would be getting in a bunch of penalty trouble, but today we stayed out of it.”
Six skaters made their Bisons regular season debuts in the victory, including the rookie duo of Connor Claughton and Avery Greig on the back-end.
“Both Claughton and Greig did a great job out there,” the coach added. “They were getting thrown into the fire at 18 years old and they played it smart and simple.
“And they’re just going to get better as the year goes on.”
One holdover from Okotoks’ championship season looks to be its boisterous fan support, which was once again a big factor in the curtain raiser on Friday.
“These guys love that and even the opposition does, believe it or not,” Cobb said of the fan support. “That energy they bring, it’s like having a sixth guy on the ice there for us.
“We love it as coaches, it gets them excited, the players, and they eat it up.”
Okotoks took its show on the road on Sept. 17 with an out of division clash against the Three Hills Thrashers and skated to a 9-3 victory. Adam Kirkpatrick had a stellar five-goal outing for the visitors, rookies Easton Dean and BJ Rogi notched their first goals with the Bisons with veterans Belanger and Scott Brown adding the other markers.
In goal, rookie netminder Kashton Payne had 25 saves to pick up the victory in his first start at the junior level.
The Bisons are next at home for the Battle of the Foothills versus the High River Flyers, who are also undefeated at 2-0 in the early going, on Sept. 23 at the Murray Arena.
Cochrane followed up the loss with an 11-4 win over the Strathmore Wheatland Kings the following day. The Generals will play their home-opener Saturday, Sept. 24 against High River. Puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Cochrane Arena.