The Fort McMurray Oil Barons certainly had lots of fight left in them as they took to the ice for Game 6 of their North Division semi-final against the Sherwood Park Crusaders Sunday night.
Both coaches had described the series as an absolute war through five games and Game 6 was no different. However, in the end it would be the Crusaders who would win the final battle, knocking off the MOB 5-3 and taking the series 4-games-to-2.
“Hopefully we gave them everything that we could,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca after the loss. “It’s tough to sit here and dissect the series but it’s tough to win a series when you don’t win one at home and we lost all three at home.”
The road team won five of the six games in the series and the team that scored first won every game.
In front of a loud crowd of 1,555, the Crusaders struck first when a nice move to the inside by Arjun Atwal allowed him to unload a slap shot and wire one over the shoulder of Chris Curr 6:27 into the game.
The Oil Barons responded well and would tie the game while on the powerplay. Taner Miller sent a low shot towards the goal from the point that was tipped off the goal post by Liam Izyk. The puck bounced out and Izyk stuck with it to knock in his 3rd goal of the playoffs to ignite the crowd.
“I can’t thank the fans enough, we talk about it throughout the course of the year about how much we appreciate the support that we get but just the atmosphere in here was just electric,” said Keca.
A late penalty taken by the MOB would have the Crusaders start the second period on the powerplay and they took advantage scoring 33 seconds in. Carter Savoie’s shot bounced off the end boards to Atwal who sent the puck into the crease where Zach Kaiser was standing to tap it in and restore the Crusaders lead.
The third period would see the team’s find the back of the net five times as the Oil Barons tried to claw their way back in but as the MOB took chances, the Crusaders made them pay. Jacob Franczak scored a pair of goals in the frame and former Baron Jack Hamly broke free down the right wing and after a fake shot, slipped the puck through the legs of Curr to put the Crusaders up 5-2 at the time.
“They’re young, they’re skilled, they’re quick, they’re offensive and we held with them and it’s unfortunate because that third period was just so uncharacteristic, we made too many mistakes, our gap was weak,” said Keca on allowing the Crusaders to open up the game. “Those things happen and good teams just wait and wait and they never deviated from their game plan at all.”
The Oil Barons got goals from Jaedon Leslie off a deflection from another Miller point shot and Konrad Belcourt who undressed a defender before potting a shot through the five-hole on Matt Berlin to give the crowd one last cheer.
The series was so close and easily could’ve went the other way but it’s the Crusaders who continue to have their best season since 2002-2003. They head to the North Final for the first since that season and they will meet the Spruce Grove Saints who swept the Bonnyville Pontiacs to reach the North Final for a remarkable 8th time in the last ten years.
“I told them that I was so proud of that group – This group is going to be a special group for me. The way that the players conducted themselves throughout the course of the year, whether it was in the community, whether it was on the ice or on the road it didn’t matter and I thanked the group,” said Keca. “This is a group that the organization can be extremely proud of and I know that the city can be as well.”
MOB Head Coach Tom Keca on the Country 93.3 post-game show.
SEASON THAT WAS
The Oil Barons finished the season in fourth place in the North Division with a 32-19-9 record for 73 points. Reed Morison led the AJHL in goals with 41 and despite not scoring in the playoffs, he racked up nine assists in ten games to finish second on the team in playoff scoring behind Kole Gable who scored five goals and ten points.
Reed Morison: The Calgary native arrived in Fort McMurray prior to last season in a trade from the Calgary Canucks. The Oil Barons were looking for scoring and Morison certainly provided that, scoring a hat-trick in his second game with the MOB. Morison finished his first season as a point per game player with 58 points in 58 games. This season, with a bigger role, Morison trained hard in the off-season to become faster and stronger out on the ice, he also shot the puck a lot more. It showed as the former WHLer scored 41 goals and 79 points to finish third in league scoring and was a finalist for the AJHL’s Most Valuable Player. Morison finishes his career with the MOB with 74 goals and 156 points in 137 regular season and playoff games.
Kole Gable: The Fort McMurrayite came home for his final junior season after spending three years in the Western Hockey League and winning a WHL championship in Swift Current. Gable was a heart and soul player who gave everything he had every shift. After playing in a handful of games as a 16 year old affiliate player with the MOB, Gable enjoyed every second of playing for his hometown team in his final junior season. He scored 29 goals and 75 points in 68 regular season and playoff games this season.
Liam Izyk: A third year player in the blue and gold, Izyk set career highs in goals, assists, points and penalty minutes this season. Izyk led by example out on the ice and was one of the league’s best two-way forwards who was never shy to stand up for his teammates. After an injury last season cost him half the year, Izyk came back determined to be a top player and he was just that. Izyk finished his MOB career playing 171 regular season and playoff games, scoring 32 goals and 113 points. He will be attending the University of Alabama-Hunstville in the fall and playing Division 1 hockey.
Peter Tomaras: The Oil Barons needed some grit last season and they got just that when they traded for Peter Tomaras. The Edmonton native played up and down the Oil Barons line-up during his two years with the club and he excelled whether in a checking role or putting up points on the top line. His goal in Game 3 against the Crusaders nearly tore the roof off the Casman Centre. Tomaras would play 96 career games with the MOB, scoring 22 goals and 40 points.
Jaedon Leslie: After helping eliminate the MOB in three straight seasons, MOB head coach Tom Keca went out and acquired Jaedon Leslie from the Whitecourt Wolverines so he couldn’t do it again. Leslie arrived just after Christmas and helped the Oil Barons get on track and finish the season as one of the hottest teams in the league. Leslie played in all situations and had the ability to shutdown the opposition’s top players. The St. Albert product would play a total of 35 games with the Oil Barons and score 10 goals and 24 points. He finishes his junior career with 258 games played, 65 goals and 154 points with the Wolverines and MOB. Leslie is off to Ohio State next season to play Division 1 hockey.
Taner Miller: The definition of what it means to be an Oil Baron. Taner Miller is one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet and he provided everything for this organization during his four years with the club. Serving as an assistant captain for two seasons, Miller was handed the ‘C’ this year and logged huge minutes on a young blueline. He would set career highs for goals and points and even developed a bit of a mean streak setting a new career high for penalty minutes with 50. In four years with the MOB, Miller would only miss six regular season games. He suited up for 265 regular season and playoff games, scored 38 goals and 169 points.
It was another exciting season of Oil Barons hockey on Country 93.3. For everyone that tuned in, we thank you for all the support and we’ll see you at the Casman Centre in September.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com
Photo by: Dan Lines