Can the Barons Seer The Stear? Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
"Waiting at the gate, we are waiting at the gate.
Smoke and fire just boil and roll from that dark and deadly hole,
While the miners' kids and wives wait at the gate"
Woody Gurthrie's song entitled Waiting at the Gate was inspired by the mining days of his youth. A day when you walked to a gaping hole in the earth, stepped away from the light into the dark, and prayed that you'd come out at the days ends. I've always admired the work being done by miners around the world because I see the necessity in the job, but also the dangers that come along with it. But the song's chorus deals with those relatives that paitently wait at the gate, hoping to see their loved ones emerge from a dangerous mine that has been known to cough a brave soul up now and again. The song and story end as you'd expect. The mine blows, funerals ensue, but still the waiting goes on. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting. At that gate, for the next massive explosion.
Guthrie's tune was purely of real life events and partially allegorical. His life was a constant waiting game. Waiting for things to get better, pushing for things to get better, but eventually things always had a way of ending in ruins. This is what made the troubled singer so great - he wasn't afraid to vent.
I don't take mining lighlty, but as we continue the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs in Oklahoma City, we've done our share of waiting -- a week's worth of waiting. And it's just a matter of time before the offensive burst between these two clubs burns bright, although it may not produce many goals. It's time for the second round of the Calder playoffs in OKC. Will you Fear the Steer?
It took a desperation shot, in two overtimes, in the fifth and final game of the San Antonio vs. Chicago series before someone clinched a spot in the second round. The unlikeliest of the unlikely scored that goal. Five and a half minutes in, defenseman Roman Derlyuk netted a left side shot around the Chicago Wolves goaltender to seal the deal. After only scoring two goals all season, his third one was the most important. And thus goes the season for the San Antonio Rampage. Unlikely, but capable.
The Oklahoma City Barons had a different outcome in their first round. Dominating the first two games, tapping the brakes in the third, and then finishing strongly in the fourth. Defeating the Houston Aeros was about offensive muscle, but defeating the Rampage will be of a different mode.
As we turn our attention to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the stakes get a little higher and the series gets longer. After a quick first round, five game kick-off, the second round becomes seven games, and a reseeding of teams from highest to lowest. This places the Toronto Marlies against the lower seeded Abbotsford Heat, and the Oklahoma City Barons against the lower seeded San Antonio Rampage; where opponents are met with a warm reminder to always 'Fear The Steer'.
The truth is that the Barons have always kind of feared the steer in one way or another. The Barons met San Antonio, fellow Western Division opponent, eight times during the 2011-2012 regular season . The record was dead even at 4-4-0-0, with 6 of those 8 being one goal games. Ironically, they split their series' last season as well with a mark of 5-5-0-0. Eight games played this season is a solid sample for where this series might head. Every game will be closely contested. Every mistake will be examined under a microscope. And it will likely go a seven game spread despite the seemingly mismatched game sheets outside of these two teams in head to head situations.
I mentioned above that this series presents a different mode for the Barons, and indeed the gears shift slightly. The Houston Aeros were a slow team, built around the idea that posessing the puck ultimately would win you games despite having any viable 5 on 5 offensive weapons. The Barons offense simply outscored, outchanced, and outhuslted them through the four game stretch. Goals were scored, defense was played, but it was the former that ultimately won them the game. San Antonio is an altogether different monster. They like to fly.
When comparing the two teams head-to-head there are a couple of things that are worth pointing out.
Let's start with goaltending. The Barons have faced four different Rampage goaltenders this season - Brian Foster twice, Tyler Plante in relief once, Jacob Markstrom three times, and Dov Grumet-Morris three times. Likely those last two will be your Rampage goaltenders in the second round. Both post 2-1 records against the Oklahoma City Barons, and both are more than capable of stealing close games. But clearly Markstrom is the guy the San Antonio Rampage want in net out of the gate. And in round one, when someone other than Markstrom plays this team loses (Markstrom was called up to Florida for the NHL Playoffs when Jose Theodore was injured; nearly killed the Rampage in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs). Hence the importance for a solid game for the young Swede.
At the other end, David LeNeveu took the bulk of the games against the Rampage including the first five of the regular season. He won the first three and lost the last two. In came Yann Danis, who in three games only secured one win. The likelihood that LeNeveu starts over Danis, especially in game one, is quite small. Although the record states otherwise, Danis is still your number one as he should be.
Special teams is also something worth taking a look out. Combined, the Rampage and Barons have had 61 power play chances head-to-head. Yet only 5 goals have been scored in that span. It's almost as if the frustration level with a man advantage bubbles to an extreme when these two tangle. And indeed, what we see on paper is what occurs on the ice. Both squads have offensive muscle, but neither is willing to give up any chance of a quick turn around for the other team. Perhaps they know each other's tendencies too well. And this will be the game plan for both OKC and the Rampage -- play aggressive, shoot the puck, but always be mindful of the speed of the opposition. Either team will bite if given enough chances.
The Rampage, in my opinion, are quite similar to the Barons in style of play. Both have fantastic bursts of speed and scoring probability. Both are defensively sound. Both have exceptional goaltending. The "X" factor for the Barons will be trying to defend soundly for the duration of three periods. The Rampage are well known for speed on the wings and active sticks in the middle. Rushing the net is no problem for them. If Danis gets a cluster of those active sticks in front of him, the chances for goal scoring go up quickly for the Rampage. It will be the Barons defensive core, that has played well in the post season despite not necessarily having to do much, that will need to make an early stake on the goal crease in front of Danis.
The Barons will again look to their youngsters on the offensive front to carry some of the dynamic push towards the goal. Hunter Tremblay , Tyler Pitlick, and Teemu Hartikainen are three players who had remarkable opening round success. all played quick, up and down, strong on the puck hockey. Assisted by the veteran status of Josh Green, Ryan Keller, and Chris Vande Velde, the Barons will need to find ways to score more than one goal a game and in bunches. And keep in mind, that the Barons haven't lost this seasons when leading after the first period. A stat which I'd post on every Barons locker room stall immediately.
Watch out for Jon Matsumoto that joined the Rampage at the trade deadline because he's a player that knows how to score, and isn't afraid to press the puck through open slots in the defense. He already has nine points in 5 games which is tied for the best in the first round of this year's Calder Cup. He's dangerous. James Wright, another dangerous player, was traded mid-December from the Tampa Bay Lightning organization to the Florida Panthers and subsequently the Rampage. Nicknamed "Killer", Wright's numbers were solid during the regular season, but nothing earth shattering. However, in the postseason he's found new life earning two goals and four assists in the first five games. He's getting the job done, and proving the value that so many Tampa Bay fans thought he clearly possessed.
Look for the Barons to gain some strength from the "tough" players - Antti Tyrvainen, Tanner House, Chris Vande Velde - as their style of play washes well with what the Rampage do fundamentally. And speaking of fundamentals, holding the strong play around the boards in one hand and a disciplined defensive scheme with few penalties in the other will be the fine line for Oklahoma City to tiptoe.
It's going to be an entertaining series to watch. Because not only do these teams like to move the puck quickly, they also like to play a bit of chess. The coaching staff for both squads is intelligent and skilled. Both know a thing or two about gamesmanship. In the end, it will be the little things that matter. Taking care of the puck, posturing in neutral ice, protecting the goal mouth, and winning the face-off battle are all examples of little things that the Barons often forget to do.
There is a bit of information to pass along that has an immediate impact on this series. Ryan Aber, from the Daily Oklahoman, mentioned that Colten Teubert was taken to the hospital after taking a puck to the face. At the time, little was known about the situation. Days later, Teubert posted a tweet mentioning he was having some surgical work done to repair his injured face. Indeed, Colten Teubert has been to be out, and likely will miss nearly a month of play.
"He got operated on [Monday] and you can barely tell, he looks good," Nelson said. "He has a bit of a black eye and a couple nicks, but he looks really good and is in good spirits. But he's going to be out for a while. It was a major situation with his cheekbone and we've got to make sure we take the right precautions with it. If he's ready to go in three weeks, then he's ready to go. But we don't expect him back for at least a month."
Western Conference Semifinals - Series "K" (best-of-7)
1-Oklahoma City Barons vs. 6-San Antonio Rampage
Game 1 - Thurs., May 3 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 2 - Sat., May 5 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 3 - Mon., May 7 - Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
Game 4 - Thurs., May 10 - Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
*Game 5 - Fri., May 11 - Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
*Game 6 - Sun., May 13 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 5:00
*Game 7 - Tue., May 15 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
All times Eastern