Will Omark be a Baron? I hope so! (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
As we enter day number four of the Oilers training camp, I begin to pull out random sticky notes. These yellow sticky notes symbolize my own war room of sorts. I meticulously write down each training camp invitee's name, their position, and their potential landing spot in various leagues. Besides the obvious fear this instills in my co-workers, I love my war room. Just call me Steve Tambellini with more smiles. I like to pick apart line configurations, digest veteran stats, and come up with incredibly precise nicknames for each player (Jared Aulin is "All In" for those keeping track).
September 27th marks the inaugural OKC Barons training camp where guys will continue the fight for positions on the team. I would be doing the readers of 'Copper & Blue' a disservice if I didn't invite you into my war room. So I'm going to take the next couple of paragraphs to ease you into my excitement for Barons hockey by pointing out a few guys I'm anxious to see play in Oklahoma City.
Martin Gerber G
My introduction to all things Gerber began when I caught him as the backup to J.S. Giguère during the Mighty Ducks run at the Stanley Cup in 2003. When he later emerged as the go-to-guy for the Hurricanes I was surprised when he put together 38 wins in 60 games. Small in stature, semi-quick, and randomly inconsistent, he hasn't been without his struggles. However, having a plethora of international experience can make for a durable and sound AHL tender this year in Oklahoma City. He would certainly fit the fan favorite bill as long as he retains some of that strong play he had early in his career. And at 36 years of age, it might not be a bad thing to have some seniority in a youthful locker room.
Alexandre Giroux F
Back to back 50 goal seasons. Back to back AHL Championships. 300 goals in 636 games played. 29 years old. Signed to a one year deal, Giroux is already my MVP of the Barons. At 6'3" 205lbs it's a sports anomaly that he hasn't succeeded in the NHL. Or is it? As pointed out on previous scouting reports, Giroux lacks the speed, bulk, and strength to have a sustainable career in the NHL. That's too bad because he was born to score goals. He wills pucks into the net, is an under rated passer, and knows what it means to win. He fits into the Barons roster for many reasons, but mainly to bulk up goal scoring. Will he make the jump to the NHL? Time will tell, but one thing is for certain, he'll be exciting to watch.
Linus Omark F
Unpredictably graceful is how I find myself describing Omark. He's flashy, but not arrogant. Quick-handed, but patient. He has the ability to make defenders look silly by scoring from strange angles. If Giroux is the goal-scoring vetran, Omark is the flashy whippersnapper ready to take his place. Although we may only see Omark in OKC for a short stint, I'm anxious to see if he can continue the intensity that he has shown in other leagues. I firmly believe he has a decent NHL career on the horizon, but a stop in the minors might do him some good.
Chris Vande Velde F
A recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, Minnesota native Vande Velde is the type of player that you'd expect coming from a strong collegiate background. He plays both ends of the ice very well, he likes to battle in front of the net, and he would be comfortable playing his role on the third line. Coupled with hockey smarts and a power forward toughness, his play will enhance the goal-scoring ability of the potential lineup with the Barons.
Alex Plante D
The injury riddled Plante has some gamesmanship about him. I wouldn't call it reckless, but it's close. Recently at the Young Stars tourney he hammered guys into the boards, dropped the gloves, and reminded us about his 6'4" 225 lb frame. He's a bruiser. If he can stay healthy, play within his means, and punish incoming forwards, he might have an interesting career in Oklahoma City.
Shawn Belle D
A veteran AHL defenseman who is bulky and quick might fit nicely into a team that is balancing vets with youngsters. His stats aren't all that great, but he does offer a punch defensively that AHL teams look to develop. If he can "stay home" positionally and make good decisions he can make a difference instantly. As far as a career in the NHL, he is still developing. Seeing an Edmonton native in the lineup makes many folks happy, but Oklahoma City seems like the perfect fit for a guy a little behind the learning curve.
This is just a quick sampling of some players I anxiously await to see hit the ice in Oklahoma City, and like many in this city I'm learning the process from contract to training camp. A fan of minor league hockey for years, primarily Central League play, we didn't have to worry about one-way deals, sudden injury related call-ups, and training camp cuts. It was pretty simple. Show up for camp, play for the team, enjoy the ride. This in no way belittles the OKC Blazers or the Central Hockey League; the times have just changed, and we are better and brighter hockey fans for it.
Upcoming Barons Dates:
September 27 - Barons Training Camp Begins
September 30 - Blue/White Intersquad Game
Octboer 2 - OKC vs. Texas Preseason Game
October 9 - Houston vs. OKC Home Opener