The road to Abbotsford was paved with an eight game layoff for the Barons. The much needed rest and focus was a welcome sight for a team that needed to have a strong push at the end of the season to muster a playoff spot in the tight Western Conference. Along with the time off came a few milestones for a young OKC team. Friday night's game at Scotibank Saddledome was not only a part of the NHL's Heritage Classic, but it also gave many Oilers fans a reason to travel to Calgary - to see their farm team play. A personal milestone in the form of 1,000 AHL games played was notched by defenseman Bryan Helmer, a total that has only bee reached at this level six other times. And a lesser known Baron would have a weekend to remember.
A quick gander at the teams Wednesday practice saw a loose, excited, but visibly ready Barons club. Not only were they poised for a memorable road trip to the north, but they also had a playoff spot in the cross-hairs. Any Barons fan will tell you that if the team escaped the Abbotsford back-to-back series with at least one win it would have been a success. Not because we lack confidence in our team, or our winning percentage against foes in the North, but rather a case of stage fright. Would the Barons be rattled by the big stage in Calgary? How would they handle a goaltender in Leland Irving which they'd never seen before? Quickly these questions were put to rest - the Barons would be alright against Abbotsford.
Oklahoma City Barons 3 - Abbotsford Heat 1
With overtime looming, Alexandre Giroux would score the game winning goal with just over a minute remaining en route to a Barons victory over the Heat.
Former Falcon/Oiler, Ryan Stone, scored in the first period at the 11:17 mark after a Heat forecheck caused Anthony Aiello to give the puck away in his own zone.
Both teams spent the majority of the first period "feeling out" their opponent. There was only one minor penalty called, and play was brisk, yet shots were few. Period one closed with the Heat up 1-0.
In period two, the Barons gave the Heat three power play chances, but the penalty kill mojo was in full swing. In net, Martin Gerber blocked all eleven shots in period two, and the Barons found scoring in a very unlikely form. Mark Arcobello, not an Oilers family household name, scored his first goal of the season with the Barons at the 7:18 mark of period two. The Yale grad, who's spent most of the season with the ECHL team in Stockton, has only played in two games prior with the Barons. Period two would end tied up at 1-1.
Period three, the Barons would have two admirable power play opportunities, but both were unsuccessful. However, with the game creeping towards overtime, Colin McDonald pushed the puck deep into Heat territory and placed a perfect pass on the stick of Giroux who had already wound up for the one timer. Chris Vande Velde would add the extra empty netter, and the Barons would seal the 3-1 victory of the Heat.
Oklahoma City Barons 3 - Abbotsford Heat 2 (OT)
The game moved from Calgary to the home barn of the Abbotsford Heat, but the Barons would beat the Heat once again on a fine performance by Jeff Deslauriers, and an overtime game winner by Mark Arcobello.
With round one of 'The Baby Battle of Alberta' now over, the Barons and Heat boarded planes and headed back to Abbotsford for round two.
After Martin Gerber's strong performance the night before, I assumed that he'd get the go-ahead again. This is why I'm not the coach. Deslauriers would get the start in net for the Barons, and would have an incredible game.
Period one began with Jake Taylor and Ryley Grantham dropping the gloves for no apparent reason. Four minutes later, Heat right winger Greg Nemisz scored his 13th goal of the season on a tipped shot from Keith Seabrook. Six minutes later, Logan MacMillan would score for the Heat, and it looked like Deslauriers was in trouble. The Barons would score late in the period when a lengthy Jeff Petry pass to Colin McDonald was then shuffled off to Brad Moran who put the Barons within one. The first period would end with the Heat up 2-1.
During period two the Barons would see three of their six power play opportunities on the night. All three were quickly squelched by strong Heat defensive plays. For the Barons, Deslauriers had found his rhythm and through 40 minutes had stopped 21 shots. Period two would end 2-1.
Teemu Hartikainen would score a power play goal that was assisted on by Alex Plante and Deslauriers. And by assisted I mean, they stood and watched while Hartikainen did all the work. Skating nearly the entire length of the ice, Hartikainen would move the puck to the Heat zone, bank a pass off the wall, collect it himself and sliced and diced to put the puck behind Leland Irving. Deslauriers would come up big for the Barons stopping 13 shots in period three including a few from the seat of his pants. The Barons had come from behind, tied it up, and put this game into overtime.
With a three on two breakaway, Hartikainen made a difficult pass to Bryan Helmer that went between his legs, and eventually ended up in the possession of Mark Arcobello who backhanded a shot around Heat goaltender Leland Irving. Arcobello would score his second goal in two nights, and be a strange hero for the Barons on the Abbotsford road trip. Barons win round two against the Heat in OT, 3-2.
Check out the game highlights over at AHL Live. Don't miss the Hartikainen off-the-boards-pass-to-himself. It's a beauty.
I'm not usually one to throw opposing rivals "under the bus", but Oilers fans will get a kick out of this one. Ryan Stone was named the first start in back to back nights. The former Oilers did have one goal on 4 shots in the first game, but ended a -1. The following night he had 4 shots on goal and ended with a +/- of 0. Both times the the Heat lost, and both times at least two Barons would have been higher in the stars o' the night had there been any right thinking media members present (aka anyone not affiliated with the Flames). And on back-to-back nights the Barons barely cracked the top three with Giroux at star #3 on night one and Deslauriers at star #3 on night two. It really felt like the Baby Battle of Alberta after all. Homer media included.
Helmer's New Heights
Bryan Helmer finally got to 1,000. Sometimes these records come in strange forms, and this one certainly did. A mid-season acquisition for the Barons, Helmer probably never dreamed that he would get to 1,000 AHL games played while being a member of the Oklahoma City Barons. His legacy in the AHL is compounded by the realization that he's only the seventh man to get to 1,000 games played in the development league. Add to that 146 NHL games, and Helmer begins to exemplify "journey man" in every facet. He still contributes; still has something to give. Amongst a young bunch of up and comers, he has stamped his place in the American League record books, but also on this OKC team. Good for Helmer.
The Barons currently reside at 5th place in the Western Division. The Milwaukee Admirals, Houston Aeros, and Texas Stars seem to be pulling away slightly from the rest of the pack, but there still only remains four standing points between 1st and 5th place. Why is this important to note? In the next week, the Barons play four games against the four teams in front of them in the West Division. Crunch time has new meaning.
Milwaukee Admirals at Oklahoma City Barons
San Antonio Rampage at Oklahoma City Barons
Houston Aeros at Oklahoma City Barons
Oklahoma City Barons at Texas Stars