It was the perfect way to cap off the final two home games of the regular season for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Back to back wins over their division rival the Whitecourt Wolverines and a goal from defenceman Gunner Kinniburgh.
The MOB blanked the Wolverines Friday night 4-0 as Chris Curr picked up his first shutout of the season and Reed Morison buried his 40th goal of the year.
On Saturday, the Oil Barons thumped the Wolverines 6-1 and the game was capped off by a powerplay goal with 3:31 remaining by Gunner Kinniburgh. The 18 year old had gone nearly two full seasons without finding the back of the net before ripping a shot off the crossbar and in to send the Oil Barons bench into a frenzy.
“Definitely the last couple games whenever we had the chance we’ve been throwing him out there, give him a shot and tonight he had one look, same shot goalie stopped it and it comes back again and he goes bardown and every one was excited,” said Oil Barons captain Taner Miller.
After scoring a goal as an affiliate player two seasons ago in his first AJHL game, Kinniburgh had to wait 111 games before he would score again but when it happened for the Lethbridge native, it brought a smile to every single person’s face at the Casman Centre.
“The guys want Gunner to score more than Gunner wants to score,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca with laugh. “He’s just a quiet kid that goes about his business, he plays extremely hard defensively and he takes pride in that aspect of his game and credit to him for being that shutdown defenceman that we’re going to need as the season winds down and we get into playoffs.”
The Oil Barons (30-19-8) are finding their stride at the right time. A five game winning streak is the longest of the season for the blue and gold and with three games remaining on the schedule, the Oil Barons have clinched home ice-advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The MOB have made the Casman Centre a tough building to play in, winning six straight at home and finishing the year 18-9-3 at home.
“Home ice is huge, couple years ago we went pretty deep (into playoffs) and we could tell that the fans here are crazy for us and we love it, it’s awesome. It’s a tough building to play in when the fans are into it and we’re going so home ice is big for us especially with the travel to Grande Prairie,” said Miller about locking up fourth place and getting to start at home against the Storm.
The Barons have also tightened up defensively of late and received scoring right up and down their line-up as the MOB have outscored their opposition 24-8 during their five game winning streak.
“With the last couple games we really wanted to shut it down for Curr, he’s backed us up all year so it was time for us to start limiting the chances,” said Miller on the team’s defensive play of late. “We’ve been playing really good against good teams and we need to do that consistently, we can’t take our foot off the gas in any game especially coming into playoffs we have to get rolling here.”
Just like his team in front of him, Chris Curr is playing his best stretch of hockey this season going 8-2-0 in his last ten games and stopping 51 of 52 shots over the pair of wins against the Wolverines.
“It was a well deserved shutout (on Friday) for Chris because he has been the backbone of our team, he has saved us on a number of occasions so for us to shut it down for him was a huge confidence booster for the team,” said Keca.
Nolen Coventry and Brendan Stafford each had a pair of goals this weekend while Tyson Scott chipped in with his first goal in 15 games.
Jarred White continues to produce as the third year Oil Baron is riding a five game point streak where he has picked up 8 points during that stretch. And Reed Morison continues to lead the charge, 9 points during a six game point streak as he sits third in league scoring with 77 points and tied for first in goals with 40.
“We talked about it last year when Will Conley was chasing 40 and I didn’t realize just how hard it was to score 40 goals in this league and what makes it even more special when I look at it as a coach is he has had a target on his back all year,” said Keca on the significance of getting 40 goals in a year. “When you’re playing Fort McMurray, that’s the first name that pops out at you. He always draws the other teams top defensive paring and playing against the other teams top line and he’s still able to produce on a nightly basis and that’s a testament to the type of player that he is and the skill set that he has to contribute on a consistent basis like that.”
The Oil Barons will finish up the regular season with their final three in three road trip of the year. The MOB will be in Sherwood Park on Friday, Drayton Valley Saturday and Spruce Grove on Sunday. You can catch all the action on Country 93.3 with Taylor Pope.
Written by: Taylor Pope
Photo by: Dan Lines