A rugged Okotoks hockey player was named to his first all-star game since he was a Peewee.
Forward Derek Rodwell was one of four Okotoks Oilers selected for the South team, which will play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League all-star game on Jan. 30 in Fort McMurray.
The other Oilers selected were captain Brandon Hoogenboom, defenceman Quinn Sproule and goalie Sean Cahill who will make his second appearance at the all-star game.
Rodwell, who was a fifth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the NHL draft in June, is looking forward to the experience.
“I haven’t been in an all-star game since about Peewee, so it will be something new and exciting,” Rodwell said. “It’s great to be recognized, but I have to stay focused on playing my game and not trying to be someone else.”
Rodwell’s game is doing the things that might not show up on the AJHL stat sheets.
“A lot of things like finishing your checks, your face-offs, don’t show up on the score sheet,” said Rodwell, a Holy Trinity Academy graduate. “Just because I don’t get a point doesn’t mean I haven’t contributed.”
Rodwell is a third-year Oiler. The ‘A’ on his jersey means he has to do more than slam bodies and win face-offs.
“Being one of the older guys I have more of a leadership role,” Rodwell said. “I can tell the guys what to expect against the other teams.”
It’s not like he’s been totally absent from the score sheet, however. He is sixth on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 17 assists. Rodwell will join former Oilers Corban Knight and goalie Bradley Eidsness with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux next season.
Hoogenboom is also making his first trip to the all-star game. His hard work and commitment the past two years has paid off and he is having his best season as an Oiler.
“I had a real good start to the season and I think that helped me get selected,” Hoogenboom said. “I have been happy with the way I have been playing. I have improved in the defensive zone. That’s helped me quite a lot because it gives me the opportunity to jump into the rush and make plays.”
Hoogenboom, a forward, is third on the Oilers in scoring with 20 goals and 13 assists. Fans going to the Centennial Arena may not be aware of it, but Hoogenboom wears the C on his jersey for half their games. He is their captain for road games while Chris Duszynski wears the C at home.
Sometimes Hoogenboom has to keep the team in check.
“We have blown three-goal leads at times and as a captain, that can get frustrating,” the Nanton native said. “They might be getting a little too cocky and you have to keep them under wraps.”
Hoogenboom was selected as a starter for the game. The third-year Oiler has not yet committed to a university hockey team.
Sproule was also selected to the starting lineup.
“Garry (Oiler coach Garry VanHereweghe) has worked with me on being more of a physical player and finishing the body,” the Oiler defenceman said.
He’s got more body to throw around. He put on 15 pounds by hitting the weights in the summer.
“Right now, we have more of a defensive mindset because we have some injuries on the blueline,” Sproule said. “So I haven’t had the chance to wheel-and-deal as much.”
Sproule, a former UFA Midget AAA Bison, has six goals and nine assists and has committed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage next year.
Cahill is making his second straight appearance in the all-star game. However, being a goalie at an all-star game is like attending your high school graduation ceremony — sure it’s an honour but you know it’s going to be a long evening.
“Our team lost 14-13 and I gave up six goals,” Cahill said with a laugh. “It’s kind of expected. No one is playing defence or taking the body. It’s really freewheeling.”
He was surprised to be invited to the all-star goalfest this season.
“I had a rough start to the year, so yeah, I was surprised I got picked,” Cahill said. His play turned around in November and recently he was named the Oilers’ number one goalie by VanHereweghe.
“It builds your confidence and gets you on a roll. When you play back-to-back games it helps a lot,” he said, adding that the strong play of Oiler rookie goalie Mike Matyas has also pushed him to be better between the pipes.
The Oilers’ improved play defensively has also made him look better.
“Garry has been preaching defence ever since he has been here,” Cahill said. He has a 13-5-1 record with a goals against average of 3.01 and a save percentage of 90.55. He will attend University of Alaska-Anchorage after his Oiler career is finished.
Although the Oilers have four players going to the game, VanHereweghe said players like the team’s top scorers, John McInnis and Duszynski, could have also been named.
He said the Oilers are like other teams in the league – only so many players can be selected.
McInnis, who is leading the team with 43 points (22 goals and 21assists), took not being selected in stride.
“I would have liked to go, but it’s not a big deal,” McInnis said. “I’m happy for these guys. Maybe next year.”
Former Oiler Mason Conway, now a member of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, was selected to the North Division all-star team.