Who makes the big team? Who gets sent down? Will they clear waivers? Will they be traded? These are questions that seem to be on everyone's mind these days in Oil Country. Truthfully, they are the questions on the minds of most NHL fans around North America. In Oklahoma City, we too are anxious to have these questions answered. As I write this, the Oilers' staff is behind closed doors making decisions on the final cuts that will impact players for the duration of the season. Some will remain in Edmonton while others will head to Oklahoma "where the wind comes sweeping down the plains". It has been a busy weekend for the OKC Barons as they prepare for the season opener on October 9th: inter-squad play, additional roster cuts, and even an interesting preseason matchup continue the hockey buzz around Oklahoma. After the jump you'll find out a few of the highlights.
Blue & White Game
In a game that was guaranteed to show off the talents of highly-touted prospects, it was a night of familiar faces that won the evening. A good sized crowd of over 1,500 gathered at the Cox Convention Center for a glimpse at the Barons intersquad game. Dave Bonk, a name most people don't know, was the first star of the game after scoring two goals that led to a blue team victory. Bonk, currently a Central Leaguer with the All Americans, proved everyone that thought he couldn't play wrong by playing a tough in the trenches game at center. He, along with Jesse Gimblett, Sean Erickson, Matt Robertson, and Milan Kytnar rounded out the goal scoring for the blue team. Who was the punching bag for this goal scoring melee by the blue team? It was none other than Stockton Thunder and Springfield Falcon alum Bryan Pitton, who continues to be exposed, especially on the stick-side.
On the other side of the rink, the white team featured a more exciting group of prospects. Teemu Hartikainen made a terrific move to setup the first goal of the game by James Livingston. Attempting to climb out of a 4-1 hole, the white team drew closer when Stacey Bauman, Matt Pierce, and Vladimir Nikiforov scored goals against University of Prince Edward Island goaltender Wayne Savage. However, the skilled team in white was outhustled by the opposition in blue on this night.
Some of my favorite moments of the night highlighted the nostalgia that many Oklahoma City hockey fans cherish so dearly. The mention of Paul Mariconda as the referee for the game caused many to hearken back to the days when he was known as the (OKC) Blazer-hater. Now an active part of the Oklahoma City Youth Hockey Association, Mariconda has become an Oklahoma City sports underground icon. But it was Tyler Fleck who drew the largest applause; the former captain of the Central League's Blazers and one of the oldest players on this year's training camp roster.
Roster Gets Thin
In what was an inevitable move, the Barons trimmed the fat from the roster prior to the preseason game with the Texas Stars. Many of the names on the cut list were lower league invites that had little chance at making the team, let alone finding a way into a preseason game. The names included goaltender Beau Erickson, defensemen Justin DaCosta, Steve Vanoosten, Tyler Fleck, Stacy Bauman, and forwards Dustin Donaghy, Mick Lawrence, Matt Robertson, Troy Schwab, Matt Pierce, Brian Bicek, and Scott Howes. This move was clearly in preparation for the coming roster cuts following the Oilers and Flames preseason game on Sunday. I hesitate to make any judgments on the Oilers deliberately slow process of cutting guys from the main squad because other teams have done the same. As I type, the Stars, Rangers, Senators, and Penguins are just a few of the teams going deep into preseason without an "opening night" roster. I think fans of both the Oilers and Barons will find a few names on both rosters that will surprise. Vande Velde anyone?
A Preseason Victory
A Barons vs. Stars matchup sounded great in the summer. Scheduling it on the same weekend as "The Red River Rivalry" between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Texas Longhorns... not so great. In the end, it was a scoreboard victory as well as a mental one for a team still being pieced together. A name that came up quite often during training camp and intersquad play was Dave Bonk. Bonk again popped up on the score sheet, as did Mike Egener, Anthony Aiello, and Jarret Lukin. Ironically, the goaltender that I was previously unimpressed with, Bryan Pitton, proved to be in fine form against a very good Texas Stars offense. What really surprised was the spirit of the event. The hustle of Oilers' training camp which trickled down to the Barons' version fell even further down the pipe to the preseason game. Pitton stopped 25 of 27, the Barons killed off six short-handed situations, and even climbed out of a 2-1 deficit to win the game 4-2. Let's hope this is a sign of things to come.
The home opener versus the Houston Aeros is less than a week away. In net, neither opening night goaltender has arrived in Oklahoma City. Martin Gerber will be there for sure, but will it be Devan Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers? I have a feeling that the Oilers are about to remind us about the business side of the NHL and keep Deslauriers who is a one year hit of $1,050,000 whether he's in the minors or majors over a two-year contract for Dubnyk who only hits at $800,000 per year. And what about the salty Sheldon Souray? Does he suck it up and join the youngsters in Oklahoma? No one claimed him off of waivers so he basically has two choices. Play in the "A" for 4.5 million and boost your trade value or don't show up at all and lose the money. Sounds like a no-brainer to me, but so did not complaining about your "situation" in Edmonton.