FORT MCMURRAY, AB (September 6, 2013) — Down 2-0 early in the second period, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons got goals from Mitchell Byrne (Onaping, ON), Alex Cromwell (McKinney, TX), and Ryan Bloom (Calgary, AB) en route to a 3-2 win over the Spruce Grove Saints in their home opener Friday night, in front of a crowd of 1,646.
“We didn't really compete very hard, I didn't think, for the first twenty five-twenty seven minutes,” said head coach and general manager Gord Thibodeau. “You're trying to play finesse hockey, and that doesn't win in the north.”
It was an inauspicious start for the Barons, who were outshot 12-8 in the opening frame, but still found themselves with only a manageable 1-0 deficit thanks to a Dylan Hollman goal 14:47 into the frame.
It took the Saints less than a minute in the middle frame to double the lead, when Hollman again found a rebound and backhanded it past a sprawling Tanner Jaillet (Red Deer, AB) for his second of the night.
But the tide soon turned, as rookie MOB forward Mitchell Byrne took a puck off of a skate deflection right in the middle of the Saints slot, and fired a wrist shot far side on goaltender Kenny Cameron for his first junior A goal, and the first MOB marker of the season.
The third period then belonged to the Barons, with a 17-11 shot advantage and a completion of the comeback that Byrne had started.
First, the second-year forward and first-year alternate captain Alex Cromwell streaked in along the right-wing side on a 2-on-1 and sent a perfectly placed wrist shot over the blocking arm of Cameron to tie the game 3:47 into the third.
“He's always had the unreal shot; the problem's been getting him in position,” said Thibodeau of Cromwell. “Alex, by his own admission, probably isn't the Wayne Gretzky of stickhandling, but he's a kid that – when he gets himself in position, gets in that slot, and gets that shot away – it's very, very heavy, and that was just a great shot on a two-on-one; there wasn't any doubt when he fired it.”
Then, with just over three minutes left in the game, a set of nifty moves by pre-season acquisition Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, NS) led to a perfect diagonal pass from the right-wing faceoff circle to a wide-open Ryan Bloom at the left side of the net, who shoveled the pass into a yawning cage for the eventual 3-2 final score.
“I got the cobwebs out a little bit, in that third period,” said Saulnier, who hadn't been able to play any pre-season games with the team because of delays in approving his trade from the Woodstock Slammers.
“Our line started clicking a little bit; that goal, I just remember, I just got it on my stick, bobbled it a bit, heard Bloom calling; I just fed it over to him and looked for his facial expression,” he recounted.
“It was a good one. The buzzer went, and it was awesome.”
Despite a late flurry of Saints pressure, the Barons held on for the one-goal win with veteran netminder Tanner Jaillet (1-0) making 31 saves.
Throughout the game, the Saints had made it a theme to harass Barons players after whistles, and were rarely penalized for it. That continued after the final buzzer, when Saints forward Devon McAndrews cross-checked Cromwell in the side of the head, knocking his helmet off, and causing a scrum that had to be separated by the linesmen before the teams could vacate the ice.
McAndrews was only assessed a two-minute high-sticking minor penalty at the twenty minute mark.
“I think we'd better get used to that; we're going to see that from a lot of teams,” said Thibodeau. “I don't think, skill-wise, a lot of teams are going to be able to match up, so they're going to try to get us off our game, and we're going to have to hold some discipline, and take the opportunities to get at them physically when they're there.”
The teams won't need to wait long to renew the animosity, as the rematch will go tomorrow night at 8 PM at the Casman Centre.
“We're not going to hang our hat on the performance, but a win is a win,” the coach concluded. “Tomorrow, it's going to look like a great win. We'll focus on that, we'll get ready for tomorrow's game, and hopefully have a better effort.”
Fans can catch the game live starting at 7:45 on Country 93.3.
Country 93.3 3 stars:
3. Brennan Saulnier (1 assist)
2. Dylan Hollman (2 goals)
1. Alex Cromwell (1 goal, 1 assist)