Photo by Diane Cox
The East Alton-Wood River Oilers pose with their 1A West Division championship during the 2014-15 MVCHA playoffs. The team ultimately finished runner-up to Edwardsville in the 1A finals.
The East Alton-Wood River hockey team hit the ice for the 2014-2015 season looking to prove that last year’s Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association 1A West Division championship was not a fluke.
The Oilers did just that.
EA-WR ended its season last week with a hard-fought battle against the Edwardsville Tigers in the MVCHA 1A finals, dropping the series 2-0. The Oilers finished with a record of 14-7-3, winning 10 straight games, which included four postseason victories. The Oilers won the 1A West Division title for the second consecutive year.
This season, the Oilers welcomed home head coach John Helmkamp, who previously held the reins for EA-WR from 1998-2001, taking them to back-to-back regular season championships. Helmkamp’s return brought a new team strategy and a new level of success for the Oilers.
“One thing I’ve picked up personally from this season is more leadership,” senior Seth Chester said. “This year having a new coach, things were different, a different approach. Like I said at the beginning of the season, he’s a man who knows his stuff. After listening to him, I knew if we followed his lead, he’d get us somewhere as a team.”
EA-WR had a history of being a physical team that drew unnecessary penalties. Helmkamp’s approach got the guys out of the box and kept them in a useful position on the ice.
“One thing we’ve talked about in the locker room before games is finishing classy,” Helmkamp said. “We’ve cleaned up our game and we need to finish them without taking bad penalties with eight seconds to go, and that’s one thing that has changed. If someone beats you, you respect them. That’s one aspect of our new character that will speak volumes. They’ve made changes not just for themselves, but for each other.”
EA-WR and Roxana High Schools co-op for ice hockey, forming the roster with players from both schools. The Oilers will lose Roxana seniors Seth Chester, Brandon Bailey and Alec Revelle, as well as EA-WR seniors Brett Gaines and Travis Koogler. The Oilers look forward to welcoming nine freshmen to the lineup from the two schools in 2015-16.
They will have All-Star power returning next year with EA-WR students Cole Ford, Tyler McHatton and goaltender Blake Stone.
Looking to the future in post-high school hockey are Ford, Chester and Revelle, as they have been chosen to represent the Oilers on the MVCHA Missouri East team at the America’s Showcase in April at the Robert Morris Island Sports Center in Pittsburgh. The showcase is designed to award high school hockey players from around the country the opportunity to compete against the best-of-the-best during a five-day period with the prospect of being seen by every major hockey institution in North America.
“We started off the season with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.,” Helmcamp said. “He said, ‘The true test of a man is not when things are going well, but rather when he’s challenged.’ As a team we accepted that challenge to change; we took that quote to heart. We achieved it as a team and took 10 games in a row and swept the first two rounds of playoffs. That’s probably my biggest surprise of the season.”
A new tradition of change and winning is the projected future for the EA-WR Oilers as new leadership is encouraged in juniors Blake Weishaupt (EA-WR), Ford and McHatton.
“This can go without saying, but I’ll say it ’cause it’s true, I’m so proud of all of these guys,” Helmcamp said. “It’s hard to put into words how proud I am of what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve done over the course of the season. They were challenged by the coaching staff to make changes in certain areas and they responded. As much as we hate to lose, I can’t help but focus on what was achieved throughout the season. All you can hope for is a chance at the championship, and we can say we had that.”
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