A balanced scoring attack has led the Foothills CFR Chemical Bisons to early success this season.
That same thing has caused coach Sandy Henry to pull his hair out at times.
The Bisons have the ability to draw players from a large area surrounding Strathmore, where they are based.
“The thing about this team is that there’s 20 guys, 18 skaters and they all want the puck,” said Henry after his Bisons beat the Alaska Oilers 4-1 at Max Bell Centre on Tuesday afternoon to improve to 2-0 at the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament. “They’re all used to being the guy. Part of the job is learning how to share that puck and working as a unit and working with other guys that are just as good as you and it isn’t easy all the time.
“They’re used to, where they come from, having all that limelight to themselves. Now I kid them, ‘There’s one puck out there fellas and 18 guys want it. Now we’ve got to learn how to figure out how 18 guys can all have a piece of that thing.’ ”
Forwards Peyton Krebs and Jackson Salt, who both hail from Okotoks, showed off their puck-distribution skills in the second period to set up Millarville’s Zach Huber for a highlight-reel goal to put the Bisons up 3-1 over the Oilers.
Salt took a pass from Krebs behind the net and then quickly fed it out into the slot for Huber, who one-timed the puck past Alaska goalie Jack Walters, who finished with 47 saves to keep the Oilers in the game.
The bang-bang-bang play didn’t surprise Henry, who has seen many spectacular goals as the Bisons have compiled an impressive 18-3-3 record to lead all AMHL squads.
“They make some plays this year that I just shake my head like, how? These guys are so fast and so skilled and so quick and they’re 15, 16 years old,” said Henry. “It’s unbelievable the plays they make. We’ve had a lot of head-shakers this year, like holy cow, those are big-league moves these guys are pulling off and they’re young.”
The Bisons also won their first two games at the Mac’s Tournament last year before being blanked 5-0 by the eventual AMHL champion Lloydminster Bobcats and falling 5-3 to the Caribou Cougars to finish out of the playoff mix.
“I’m trying to forget about that,” said captain Brett Trentham, of Three Hills, who is one of six returning players on the Bisons. “I think our group from this year to last year is a lot different. We had great leaders last year, but the guys this year, they love to win and everything’s about competition. They love putting up goals.”
Through 24 AMHL games, returning forward Tyler Petrie is tied for the team lead with 24 goals, while he’s third in points at 24 behind talented rookies Tarun Fizer and Krebs, who have put up 27 and 26 points, respectively.
Blake Wells has also scored 12 goals, while Fizer, Krebs and Huber have each found the back of the net 11 times.
“No one really cares in there who’s leading the team in points,” exclaimed Trentham, who has lit the lamp eight times while piling up 20 points. “It could be a goalie, no one cares. We’re just happy for each other.”
Speaking of goalies, Ben Laidlaw has gone 11-1-2 in AMHL action so far, while Hunter Young has a 6-2-1 record. Laidlaw made 31 saves to backstop the Bisons to a 5-2 win over the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs on Boxing Day at the Mac’s tournament, while Young stopped 19 of 20 shots fired his way by the Oilers.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s in there,” said Trentham, who called both goalies studs. “We’ve got confidence in both of them.”
After a day off from competition, the Bisons return to action on Thursday (2:30 p.m., Father David Bauer Arena) when they face the Greater Vancouver Canadians.
“We know we’ve got to win the next two to get in,” said returning defenceman Cole Clayton, of Strathmore. “That’s at the front of our minds. We’ve got to get some rest and be ready for the next game, because we know they’re going to come hard.”
The Bisons will close out the preliminary round when they take on the Moose Jaw Generals at Max Bell on Friday (11:45 p.m.).
“We’re a fast team, that if everyone’s going, I think we’re pretty hard to stop,” said Krebs, the first overall pick by the Kootenay Ice at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. “Definitely these next two games are going to be tough, but I think it’ll be a good test for our team and our character in our room.”