*Written/supplied from Okotoks Oilers (click link for video highlights)
Dean Spak (Calgary, AB) and Conyr Hellyer (Okotoks, AB) both scored twice against the Drumheller Dragons on Tuesday to lift the Okotoks Oilers to a decisive 6–3 victory in Game 6 of their Viterra AJHL South semifinal playoff series.
Ty Yoder (Tofield, AB) and Kade Turner (Calgary, AB) also scored to help send the Oilers off to face the Brooks Bandits in the Viterra AJHL South final. The Oilers and Bandits last did post-season battle in the third round of the 2019 playoffs, with Brooks ultimately advancing in six games.
Jack McNaughton (Calgary, AB) stood tall for the Oilers in Game 6 against Drumheller, stopping 24 of the 27 shots he faced en route to being named the “Hardest Working Oiler.” At the other end of the ice, Dragons starter Eric Ward (Edmonton, AB) allowed four goals on 20 shots before the Oilers added a pair of empty-netters.
Hellyer got the party started for the Oilers just 59 seconds into the first period, streaking past both Drumheller defenders off a long pass from Spak before beating Ward with a nifty backhand-to-forehand move.
Drumheller managed to respond just 14 seconds later. Appearing in his first playoff game of the year, Dragons captain Myles Hillman (Sylvan Lake, AB) established his position in front of McNaughton and deflected a long-range shot by Tanner Dawkins (Cloverdale, BC) into the net.
It took less than two minutes for Spak to answer right back, scoring the Oilers’ only power-play goal of the contest by banging the rebound of a Yoder shot right through Ward. Yoder added a goal of his own in the dying minutes of the period to make it a 3–1 game.
Spak and Sam Huck (Calgary, AB) combined to put the Oilers up 4–1 midway through the second period (coincidentally, the pair had collaborated on a goal in the opening frame that ended up being disallowed). After taking a feed from Austin Reschny (Macklin, SK) below the Drumheller goal line, Huck found Spak in the slot for a one-timer that popped the bottle on top of Ward’s net.
Even after falling behind by three goals with less than 28 minutes to play in regulation time, the Dragons still managed to find a way to keep things interesting. Carter Belitski (Regina, SK) cut the Oilers’ lead to 4–2 with exactly four minutes left in the middle frame before Luke Fennig (Battleford, SK) made it a one-goal game at the 3:55 mark of the third, setting the stage for an anxiety-inducing final 16 minutes of play at Pason Centennial Arena.
McNaughton proved his worth in the third period, making multiple showstopping saves to keep the Oilers ahead by a goal. With the victory, the 20-year-old goaltender improved to a perfect 7–0–0 in the 2022 playoffs to go along with his .938 save percentage and 1.68 goals-against average.
Finally, with just 1:24 to play in the third, Hellyer allowed the season-best crowd of 1,493 at Pason to collectively breathe a sigh of relief. The future Arizona State Sun Devil found the back of Drumheller’s vacated net to restore the Oilers’ two-goal cushion; then, with 16 seconds remaining, Turner added an empty-net goal of his own to make it 6–3.
The Oilers will now take the next week to prepare for the Viterra AJHL South final against the Bandits, which will kick off in Brooks for Games 1 and 2 on April 8 and 9, respectively. The series will then shift to Okotoks for Game 3 on April 12 and Game 4 on April 13, with the scheduling for any additional games still to be determined.
— Mike Gould