As we collectively reflect on the passing of 2010, and joyously beckon for a better, new and improved 2011, it's hard not to hold your breath, and sigh. As a new member of "Oil Country" via the pipeline to Oklahoma City, 2010 has been quite the year for Edmonton hockey-files. I'm not brave enough to point out the significant details, but rather I'll nudge you to focus on 2011, and not promise any "plan" or "rebuildings", but rather give you hope in the arms of a Copper & Blue Baron (or two). Sounds a bit triumphant doesn't it.
Triumphant indeed has the hockey transformation in Oklahoma been in 2010. From the ashes of a Central League team fold, to the enraptured moment we'd all been waiting for - hockey, I mean good hockey, was finally coming where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.
So as the holiday decorations come down, and the world goes back to spinning, let's catch up with our beloved Barons to see if they ushered in a new year in fine form, or in feverish futility.
We've gone from one game in one week, to five games in six days. Truthfully, the one-game week was a gracious holiday treat as the Barons found themselves floundering through a four game strectch of regulation losses. A first for this team, but certainly not surprising as a few key members were now ensconced briefly with the big club - namely Linus Omark, Ryan O'Marra, and Jeff Petry. But have no fear, someone on this Barons team was bound to step-up, and end that nasty losing streak. Or were they?
All My Vexes Live In Texas
Texas Stars 4 Oklahoma City 3 (SO)
The Barons lost to the Texas Stars team in Cedar Park only eight days before, and unfortunately on this night it was the same song, same dance partner, just a different prom. The Barons, now playing host to the Stars, just can't beat Texas teams. Coming into this game the Barons had only beaten teams from Texas twice, and lost a whopping ten.
The Barons would enter period three of this game up 3-1 on the back of stellar goaltending from Martin Gerber. Brad Moran scored goals number eleven and twelve on the season, while Taylor Chorney netted only his second. Things were looking steady, until they began to unravel quickly within the first two minutes of period three. Former Edmonton Oil King, Tomas Vincour, scored the second goal of the evening for the Stars, followed by Fabian Brunnstrom who tied the game at three with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
The Barons and Stars both played strong during overtime, but somehow Gerber, and starting Stars goaltender Richard Bachman kept it locked at three. The shootout went to five skaters with Brad Moran and Teemu Hartikainen scoring, but Colton Sceviour, Tomas Vincour, Mathieu Tousignant put the Barons away.
Although the team escaped with a point, they saw their regulation losing streak stretch to five games with another Texas team to play the next evening.
The Rampage River-Walked All Over Us
Oklahoma City Barons 3 San Antonio Rampage 5
We are starting to see a trend within the Oilers organization. Suddenly both the big club, and its minor league affiliate can't play an entire three periods of hockey. This, coupled with the inability to put the puck on the net consistently, have done both teams in quite frequently over the last two weeks.
On this night in San Antonio, the Barons came out firing on all cylinders, but eventually ran out of gas. Teemu Hartikainen opened the scoring after some grinding by Richard Petiot and Liam Reddox. Less than a minute later, Colin McDonald scored number sixteen on the year, by stealing the puck short handed. Period one ended with Martin Gerber stopping the shots needed to keep it Barons 2, Rampage 0.
The second and third periods were quite the opposite of the first. The Rampage scored three straight goals, including one on the power play by former New York Ranger tough guy Ryan Hollweg. Colin McDonald came up big to end period two, and tie the game up at three. However, Matt Watkins would score the game winning goal for San Antonio, plus an empty netter to defeat the Barons three to five.
Despite Gerber stopping 36 shots, and very few penalties, the Barons just couldn't score on the power play going 0 for 6 against the top team in the West.
A New Year's Eve Negotiation
Oklahoma City Barons 4 San Antonio Rampage 1
After a disheartening loss to the surging Rampage two nights before, someone on the OKC squad needed to step it up, or the losing streak would go well past the six we were currently sliding through.
Alexandre Giroux, the newly minted Western Conference All-Star captain, had a few things to prove. Even his greatest supporters throughout his incredible scoring years were beginning to wonder what had happened to the goal scoring machine. He indeed is nowhere near fifty or sixty goal pace as in years before, but on New Year's Eve he seized the opportunity to prove everyone wrong at least for one night.
Giroux scored in the first minute of the game, when Liam Reddox dropped the puck right on his stick. Barons goaltender, Martin Gerber, continued his strong play, but so did Rampage netminder Matt Climie who is fresh off a stint with the Phoenix Coyotes. Both were able to make big stops throughout period two, and somehow crawled into period three with the score being Barons 1, Rampage 0.
Giroux and Reddox again connected midway through period three, this time on a tremendously crafted power play. Reddox himself turned around and scored a third period goal after Philippe Cornet dug the puck out of the corner. Despite a power play goal by the Rampage's Petr Prucha late in the final period, the Barons win was capped off by a Giroux empty netter that also earned him the hat trick. The Barons losing streak had finally ended.
High on the Hog
Rockford Ice Hogs 1 Oklahoma City Barons 2
The Rockford Ice Hogs are a young team that has endured the most punishment being a part of the Western Division. With a roster that features twelve rookies, they probably won't be struggling for long. The last time the Barons tangled with the Ice Hogs, it was back on December 11th when Teemu Hartikainen scored a dazzler of an overtime winner.
After incredible performances by Giroux, Reddox, and nearly the entire team only the night before the crowd at the Cox Center was anxious to see the Barons manhandle the Ice Hogs. A key selling point to this game was the return of Wade Brookbank, a former Oklahoma City Blazer, back to the confines of the Convention Center that we'd watched him play in for almost two years. Brookbank, a bruiser who's seen time with NHL clubs in Carolina, Vancouver, and Nashville was never one to back down from a fight.
The Barons played one of the most un-inspired, and sluggish games of the season thus far, but somehow managed to pull together two rare power play goals after being down 0-1 almost the entire game. Colin McDonald, as well as Linus Omark scored in the last half of period three to overcome some ponderous hockey. Of course, it was nice to see Omark score upon returning from an eight game call-up to the Oilers.
The Pigs Fly
Rockford Ice Hogs 6 Oklahoma City Barons 5
A polar opposite game was completely unexpected as the two teams earned thirty fighting minutes out of sixty total for the entire game. The Barons power play, now in top form went 3 for 7, Linus Omark had four helpers, and Liam Reddox punched home two goals in a hard fought losing battle where both teams shot the puck well.
Former Texas Star and current Ice Hog, Ivan Vishnevskiy scored the opening goal, but was quickly answered by a quick-to-the-puck Liam Reddox. Teemu Hartikainen put the Barons ahead on a power play goal that featured quite the dangle from Linus Omark. Before the horn sounded on period number two, Rockford's Kyle Beach scored from the left wing keeping the score tied at two.
Period two was fast and furious, but Rockford would prevail scoring two goals against the lone goal for the Barons by Chris Vande Velde, his eighth of the season.
With the Hogs up one goal, the Barons pressured hard, but found themselves behind two goals. Early in the third period centerman Evan Brophey cleanly beat Martin Gerber glove side. Oklahoma City refused to quit as Liam Reddox capitalized on a slashing penalty that led to a power play goal. Unforunately, the Ice Hogs would counter, and Taylor Chorney's power play goal in the waning seconds of period three was just too little, too late. The Barons would lose a tough one to the Ice Hogs 6 to 5.
It appears that Shawn Belle and Ryan O'Marra will have their stay in Edmonton cut short as they head back to Oklahoma City. However, it is rumored that Liam Reddox and Linus Omark might find their ways back into the Oilers lineup with some key injuries leaving spots open on that roster. Interesting thing to consider is the one way nature of Reddox's contract that might get sticky following a return to Oklahoma City. Would a team claim him? Maybe not, but it certainly might be a gamble.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, the Barons are in sixth place in the West Division, but only six points out of first place. The next six games will feature teams they are chasing in that pack, four of which are against the Peoria Rivermen who are the top dog as of Sunday evening.
Alexandre Giroux is in fifth place in AHL scoring with 36 points in 37 games. Liam Reddox isn't too far behind with 33 points in 37 games. The most incredible Baron on the list has to be Linus Omark who has 31 points in 28 games.
When compared to the six games prior, the Barons six game losing streak featured a sharp drop in the number of goals. Penalty minutes, goals against, and PK totals were the same. Down were power play goals, shots on net, and even strength scoring. Lesson? Omark, O'Marra, Petry, Belle - These guys add spark, in their absence the team wanes.
January 7th - Peoria Rivermen at Oklahoma City Barons
January 8th - Peoria Rivermen at Oklahoma City Barons
January 9th - Lake Erie Monsters at Oklahoma City Barons
January 13th - Oklahoma City Barons at Peoria Rivermen
January 14th - Oklahoma City Barons at Peoria Rivermen
January 15th - Oklahoma City Barons at San Antonio Rampage