CANORA - After benefiting from strong support by Canora and area hockey players and businesses, the U18AA Sask East Richardson Pioneer Oilers played a home game against the Moose Jaw Warriors at the Canora Civic Centre on Nov. 3. Making the evening even more memorable, the Oilers overcame a strong effort from the Warriors for a 4-3 overtime win.
Oilers Head Coach Jason Gordon started the game with five players who played their earlier minor hockey years in Canora and the surrounding area, including: Rhett Ludba and Ty Sleeva of Canora, Mason Babiuk of Sturgis, Levi Erhardt of Togo, and Cort Simpson of Theodore, who turned out to be the hero with the game winning goal in overtime.
“Every young hockey player dreams of playing in a packed arena in their hometown,” said Gordon. “It was great to see the community of Canora supporting the Sask East Oilers and filling the arena to watch our U18AA action. Hopefully there was a young player watching the game in Canora that has the same dreams of playing for the Oilers in the future.”
The Oilers raced out to a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period, and it looked like the home team might be on its way to a runaway. But the Warriors, behind a stellar 57-save effort from goalie Casson Silbernagel, continued to fight back throughout the game. The contest was tied 2-2 after the first period, and 3-3 after regulation time, setting the stage for Simpson’s OT winner for the Oilers.
“There are many defining moments for a team over the season and tonight was a character win for our team,” observed Gordon. “In our U18AA league we cannot take any team lightly as Moose Jaw came into Canora with the top two scorers in the league. We know we are playing good right now and we want to keep building and striving towards being a great team.”
Gordon said preparation had a lot to do with the Oilers scoring the game winning goal in overtime
“We play a lot of three-on-three in practice to be ready for OT situations and those practice repetitions have us comfortable and calm in overtime. We knew we were starting OT with a four-on-three power play. It was awesome to see Cort Simpson find the back of the net at the end of the power play.”
The Oilers are currently in first place in the Sask AA Hockey League South division standings, and Gordon said Sleeva, Ludba, Babiuk and Erhardt have all made strong contributions to the team’s early-season success.
“Ty is a team-first player and is willing to play any position. Last season he made the move from defence to forward and has been a great addition to our forward lines. He is a physical player and sets an example for all players to work to the best of their abilities.
“Rhett is one of the fastest skaters in the U18AA League and has grown immensely as a player since joining the U18AA program in January. Rhett has one of the quickest and most accurate shots and uses his speed to fly by the opponents. Rhett can play all forward positions and is a faceoff specialist, often winning over 60 per cent of his face-offs in any game.
“Mason is a skilled, strong, physical presence on our blue line. He has great vision with the puck and has a heavy accurate shot. Mason has excellent character and every player feels safer when Mason is on the ice. Mason will continue to excel throughout the season with his dedication and determination in every situation.
“Levi is playing in his third season of the U18AA league. He is a dynamic defenceman that leads the rush with his powerful skating and accurate shot. Levi is a leader in our dressing room and off the ice he is a leader at Kamsack Comprehensive Institute. The future is bright for Levi as his leadership is the type of character that we need in all young people.”
Gordon said the decision for the team to play a home game in Canora made good sense for a number of reasons, including the involvement of local players and sponsors.
“It was just awesome to be able to see the excitement on the faces of the local players when they heard we were going to play a game in Canora. Levi, Ty, Rhett, and Mason invited all of their teachers to the game in Canora. The game creates a future where we want to have our players leave our program as better people through the game of hockey.
“We are the only U18AA team in the area and feel an obligation to practice and play in the communities that are supporting our team. We wanted to showcase our level of AA hockey and give our players a chance to show their skills in the towns that have supported them on their AA hockey journey. I admire our players that dedicate their time to travel into practices and games all season.”
The 18 players on the Oilers roster this season are from: Sturgis, Canora, Togo, Theodore, Melville, Esterhazy, Balcarres and Yorkton, which is a significant benefit for the team, according to Gordon.
“Having games and practices in our players’ communities helps us to get a broader perspective of the dedication each player commits to playing AA hockey. Team chemistry starts with our leadership group and the character of the players that become a part of the team. Our hockey family adds to the positivity and growth of our young men. Our team goal is always to grow and get better as a person every day. If we can maximize that goal the future is bright.”
The Oilers are currently in first place in the Sask AA Hockey League South Division. The team’s only tournament of the season takes place in Prince Albert over the Remembrance Day weekend.
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