WHITECOURT, AB (September 15, 2013) — They did it again.
Down two goals early, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (5-0) stormed back with 4 consecutive goals, defeating the Whitecourt Wolverines by a final tally of 5-3 to cap off a three-game road trip Sunday afternoon.
The win came after an inauspicious start, with Whitecourt forward Colten Mayor scoring a rebound goal on an early power play just 3:43 into the game. Just after the 10 minute mark, Ryan Berlin converted a centering pass from Trace Elson with a one-time goal from the slot to double the Whitecourt lead.
“They've got a pretty good squad, and they threw a lot of speed at us early,” said head coach Gord Thibodeau. “To be honest, we were back on our heels a bit; we haven't quite faced that kind of speed yet. It took us a little while to adjust, but I thought after about the ten minute mark, we started to come.”
The turnaround began with a Hayden Dawes (Stony Plain, AB) centering pass from the right-wing corner to linemate Adam Durkee (Lafayette, CO), who one-timed the puck past rookie Whitecourt goalie Josh Bykowski to send the Barons into the dressing room down by only one after the first period.
The second period then belonged to Fort McMurray, as the MOB scored three consecutive goals to take a lead they would not relinquish.
First, a cross-slot pass between Mitchell Byrne (Onaping, ON) and Mitchell Vanderlaan (Halifax, NS) created a net-front scramble that was finished off by Ryan Bloom (Calgary, AB) for a tie game just 1:53 into the second.
Minutes later, on a power-play, Zach Wittenburg (Chestermere, AB) snuck into the slot from the blue line and one-timed a perfect centering pass from Dawes into the back of the Wolverine net for the team's first go-ahead goal of the night at 5:08.
Then, 11:32 in, captain Jetlan Houcher (Paradise Valley, AB) flicked a puck in front from behind the net to a wide-open Durkee in the slot, whose quick wrister to the top corner beat Bykowski for a 4-2 MOB lead, and Durkee's sixth point in his last 3 games.
Durkee's line with Houcher and Dawes ended up being a major offensive catalyst for the team throughout the road trip.
“Durkee was playing with [Brennan] Saulnier and Bloom, and those are guys that really like to handle the puck,” explained Thibodeau, “and maybe there wasn't enough puck to go around for the three of them; so we moved him, trying to get a bit more offence out of Houcher and Dawes also, and the unit seems to be clicking.”
“If it's working, don't mess with it, and I'm smart enough to know that if that's going to continue to work for 2 or 3 goals every night, then I'll be smart enough to leave it alone and keep that line together.”
The Wolverines kept it interesting, however, with a quick rush by Colten Mayor ending with his second goal of the night, lifting a shot over downed MOB goalie Tanner Jaillet (Red Deer, AB) at the 13:06 mark.
But Jaillet would make several key saves in the third period, particularly late in the frame, to keep the narrow lead alive, and with 15 seconds left, second-year forward Scott Pooley (Granger, IN) notched an empty net goal from the right-wing halfboards to seal the 5-0 deal for Fort McMurray.
“Physicality was the key; I think in the second and third we started to be a bit more physical with their forwards,” Thibodeau recounted, “and as a result, I thought we were better in our own end. There's still some improvements [to come] but I think each game we're getting a little bit better in all areas of the game.”
“When this team gets hitting on all cylinders, it's going to be pretty to watch.”
The team now sits alone atop the AJHL league standings, with the third-best goals for average (4.20) and best goals-against average (1.20).
Thibodeau was slightly hesitent when asked when the last time his team had started this well had been.
“I don't want to jinx anything,” he said, “but 2005-06 when we won the league title. I think we got off to a 10-1 or 9-1 start, so we're obviously hoping that this is a good omen.”
“I still think we're going to get better; but so far we've found a way to win, and that says a lot about the character that's in that dressing room.”
The Barons will return home Friday night to take on the high-flying Okotoks Oilers, who are coming off of a significant win over the defending national champion Brooks Bandits.
Puck drop for that game is at 8:00 PM at the Casman Centre, with pre-game coverage starting at 7:45 on Country 93.3.
Country 93.3 3 stars:
1. Adam Durkee (2 goals, 1 assist)
2. Zach Wittenburg (1 goal, 1 assist)
3. Hayden Dawes (3 assists)