The Okotoks Oilers season was full of resiliency with the move from the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) to the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) halfway through the 2023-2024 season.

Kade Turner, who was the assistant captain for the past season and has been a mainstay defenceman for the Oilers, puts the move from the AJHL to the BCHL into perspective from the Oilers player's standpoint.

"I think the hardest part was kind of keeping people focused and keeping everyone dialled in. It was like 'Oh we aren't playing for anything anymore.' Then once we started to get going and realized we are playing the better teams, and once we started playing it was like 'Okay this is probably more fun than it would be in the (AJHL) anyways.' It was good," Turner said.

"Looking back at it if we were to play how we played in the (BCHL) against the (AJHL) teams through the whole year we would have had a much better record than what we did. It was quite a jump actually, I was kind of surprised on how much of a big jump it was, it was good for us, I think."


Kade Turner clearing a loose puck in front of goaltender Christian Green.Kade Turner clearing a loose puck in front of goaltender Christian Green.

Times were tough from the initial move after battling it out with the Sherwood Park Crusaders, Blackfalds Bulldogs, Spruce Grove Saints, and the Brooks Bandits. The Oilers would turn it around and get some solid play from the whole roster in sweeping the Spruce Grove Saints in their first-round matchup, then took the Bandits all the way to game seven in the second round after some overtime heroics from team captain Dean Spak in game six.

Another player who turned on the jets during playoffs was Jagger Tapper, who would lead the team with 12 points in 10 games, scoring a couple of beautiful goals. One of his goals that sticks out is from game six against Brooks. Tapper would get a stretch pass from Thomas Matte, go in alone, fake a shot, and put it past Johnny Hicks (Bandits netminder) to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead in the game.

"I felt like I came out to a decent start, I got a couple goals in the first games (during the season), but after that, I feel like I could have played better. The beginning of the year wasn't what I wanted it to be, I think it could have been a lot better. But I feel like as the year went on, I just got more comfortable and improved throughout the year," Tapper said.

Tapper was on a line with Sam Huck and Brett Wilson for the majority of the BCHL season and playoffs, making it clear that they worked well together, feeding off chemistry and always being a danger to opposing teams when they hit the ice for a shift.

"There is a bunch of chemistry there, obviously me and Huck bring speed and then me and Wilson bring grit. We go in the corners; we battle and get the puck out to Huck to give him a chance to score or vice versa. Huck will go into the dirty areas and make a play for me, and it just worked out really well. Playing together throughout the year really helped us gel before playoffs and I think we gave our team a really big boost in playoffs there," Tapper said.

Jagger Tapper getting into the dirty areas to retrieve a loose puck. Jagger Tapper getting into the dirty areas to retrieve a loose puck. 

While Tapper was creating chemistry with his linemates, Turner played his first season as an assistant captain and gave praise to the veteran leadership group for making his job smooth.

"We had a good leadership group with Spak, he's been the captain for two years. Logan Magowan, Brett Huxley, O'Halloran, and then MacNeil came in, all those guys are leaders in themselves, and I honestly didn't really have to do much. It was good," Turner said.

Both Turner and Tapper felt they had a good shot at beating Brooks this year as the competition between the two teams came down to a game six last year. While the Oilers were able to push it to a game seven this year, they fell short.

"It kind of stems from last year, we knew that going into playoffs it's always different against them. Like last year we took them to game six and we always seem to get better in playoffs. It was actually crazy how similar it was to last year until game six, we won game six instead of losing it. I thought we played really well in game one and two, thought we could have won both, but we just won game two. From there we just used the momentum from those two games and eventually got to game seven. Then what happened, happened," Turner said.

"Playing in it was awesome, even though we got shutout that first game, that whole game we felt like we had a chance to win. We proved that the next day when we came out and won. It was kind of a familiar place because it was more or less the same as the year before. We came out and lost but then we stole one at their house, then they came back to our barn and took one as well, then we tied it up. From there on out it's a three-game series and you never know what's going to happen. I think we played really well as a team and forced them to be on their A-game to beat us and they did that in game seven. Sadly, we lost, but I think we played unreal as a team and pushed them to their limits," Tapper said. 

Jagger Tapper in the zone for game three against the Bandits.Jagger Tapper in the zone for game three against the Bandits.

"I think it's just that playoff mindset that we in Okotoks really focus on and emphasize is that you got to come out and be prepared for playoffs, anything can happen in a seven-game series. Looking back at the regular season, we didn't take one game on them. Playoffs are just a different game, with way more physicality. You are way more ready to go, and I feel like that really helped us out and gave us the ability to beat them. I think we caught them off guard with how well we were playing in playoffs coming out of that Spruce series, that was able to help us beat them."

When it comes to looking back at the season as a whole, including playoffs, both Turner and Tapper talked about what stuck out to them the most.

"I think just being able to overcome all that adversity throughout the year, where we were almost taken out of the league, not allowed to play and then jumped right back into it playing an extra 20 games or so. Just being able to deal with that, the ups and downs of the year and stay positive throughout that is a big thing I will be taking forward," Tapper said.

"It was a really extremely resilient group just with everything that we went through with the (BCHL) and losing in the (BCHL), up and downs throughout the year. Like I said, the leadership group with Huxley, Magowan, MacNeil, Spak all did a really good job to keep our team focused and ready to go. I think that is the big takeaway, is how resilient we were this year," Turner explained.

Kade Turner in position after Oilers win a draw in game six vs Brooks.Kade Turner in position after the Oilers win a draw in game six vs Brooks.

When it comes to the head coach and GM of the Oilers, Tyler Deis is known to fire up the team before games, getting them energized and ready to go.

"I think you can see that in the way we play and the way we come out flying in games like against Brooks and teams like that. I think you can see it in the way we play, we are aggressive and fast. That's the way he likes it, so it's good," Turner said.

Tapper shared a similar sentiment.

"He was awesome throughout my two-year career, he's always pushed me to be the best player that I can. Those pre-game speeches really get you going, he takes it really personal when we play certain teams, and that gets us fired up to play for him. It's his job right, that's his livelihood and he gets us fired up to go and win for him."

Jagger Tapper laying the body in game six against the Brooks Bandits.Jagger Tapper laying the body in game six against the Brooks Bandits.

Tapper and Turner will not be joining the team next season as they are both headed south of the border to play hockey in the States with their respective NCAA teams. Tapper will be playing with RPI where Turner will take his talents to Ferris State University. Both, however, will remember their time with the Oilers fondly and left the Green Army with this message.

"It was awesome playing in front of everyone in Okotoks, I felt like they brought a lot of energy. Even through playoffs, they brought a ton of energy and that helped us throughout the series. I love playing in front of the Okotoks fans," Tapper said.

Turner expressed his thanks to the fans.

"Thank you. I have had a great time here in Okotoks and I have loved all three years. The fans are great, we go to breakfast before games, and I see all the fans at Sweetgrass there. They are all incredibly nice to me and love watching us play. I appreciate all of them."