AUDIO: Hear assistant coach Tom Keca’s postgame thoughts:
Luc Lalor's (St. Albert, AB) first junior A goal in the first period couldn't hold up for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (1-2), as they fell 3-1 to the undefeated Bonnyville Pontiacs (3-0) at the Casman Centre on Wednesday night.
The MOB held the visitors to just 5 shots in the first period. Lalor's goal came off a faceoff as he stepped off the right half-wall and fired a wrister through a screen in front of Bonnyville goaltender Stephen Klein (Saskatoon, SK).
It would be the only goal Klein would allow, as he made 34 saves on 35 MOB shots to take the night's first star honours. At the other end of the rink, Tanner Jaillet (Red Deer, AB) stopped 18 of 20 shots.
Though the Barons outshot their opponents, 35-21, it was little consolation for assistant coach Tom Keca.
“I don't think a lot of them were good quality scoring chances,” he said. “Second period, we had 9 or 10 shots by our count, but there was only one in those areas.”
“One of the things we talked about as a group before the game was this was going to be a big test,” he recalled. “Historically, Bonnyville makes it very tough to get to those scoring areas, and we challenged our guys, and I don't think we responded.”
The momentum shifted in favour of the Pontiacs after team captain Locke Muller (Kelowna, BC) fought Barons defenceman Matt Purmal (Merrill, WI) late in the first. The fairly even scrap appeared to be a response to two very big hits by Barons players on Pontiacs; the first a quality hip check by rookie Zach Wittenburg (Chestermere, AB) and the second by Justin Fraser (Hussar, AB), who laid out Pontiacs defenceman Redford Swan (Sherwood Park, AB) with a clean shoulder hit as he exited the penalty box.
Fraser exited the box as the Barons finished a stellar first penalty kill, allowing 0 shots to the Pontiac man-advantage unit.
However, on their next two power plays, the Pontiacs would make no mistake.
7:55 into the middle stanza, Keith Csizmadia (Calgary, AB), found rookie forward Brady Bakke (Red Deer, AB) alone at the side of the McMurray net for his first junior A goal.
Less than two minutes later, Csizmadia won a faceoff back to rookie defenceman Tom Kohler (St. Thomas, ON) who blasted a slapshot through traffic to give the Pontiacs a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
“In the first period, we forced them to dump,” said Keca of the PK. “I thought in the second period we gave up the blueline which allowed them to gain under control. They're a very offensive team when you've got guys like [Jackson] Dudley and [Tanner] Dusyk.”
On the other side, the Barons went 0-for-5 on their powerplay; a point of concern for the coach.
“I thought we were too perimeter,” he said. “There was one time where one of our players had half-wall, he could've walked it all the way in and yet he backed up and almost ended up brushing his butt against the boards.”
“It looked fancy at times, but it was fairly perimeter, and not very effective.”
With just over a minute left, coming off a MOB timeout, it was the captain Muller who intercepted a pass at the Bonnyville blueline, split the McMurray defence, and scored a breakaway empty net goal to seal the game.
“We couldn't have drawn it up any better, it was exactly what we wanted,” Keca explained. “We wanted to get the puck back to the point, get it to the middle of the ice, and then our d-men had a couple of options.”
“One of them wasn't necessarily to pass it to their guy,” he expanded.
Overall, Keca says there are still bright spots to focus on.
“It's frustrating, but this is a young group,” said Keca. “We're going to be patient. You have to sometimes build on the positives; there are things that we definitely have to work on, but there were some bright spots.”
The Barons are back in action next Friday night, the 21st, on the road against the Drayton Valley Thunder (1-1).
COUNTRY 93.3 3 STARS:
3. Fort McMurray – F Luc Lalor – 1 goal
2. Bonnyville – D Tom Kohler – 1 goal, 1 assist
1. Bonnyville – G Stephen Klein – 34 saves on 35 shots