The Gord Thibodeau 2.0 era began this weekend for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons as the AJHL?s winningest coach stepped back behind the home bench at the Casman Centre for the first time in six years.
?It was fun (to be back coaching), I found myself very positive and trying to encourage a lot which I think this team needs right now but I am emotionally very tired right now,? said Oil Barons Head Coach Gord Thibodeau with a smile after his first game back coaching after taking nearly a year away from the game. ?I didn?t want to over coach, I wanted to give the team a chance to play and evaluate and see what we have.
Despite a couple of strong performances from the MOB, they fell in both games losing 3-1 to Okotoks on Friday and 5-3 Saturday to Spruce Grove extending their losing streak to six games.
Thibodeau didn?t have much if any time to practice with his new club as he arrived into town Thursday after that morning?s announcement that the man who guided the Oil Barons to their most recent AJHL Championship back in 2006 would be returning to the city he called home for 11 seasons.
The veteran bench boss tried to instill some quick system work and structure for his young team and was impressed with what he saw but says there is still a lot of work to be done.
?I saw some real good things and some things we need to work on but you can?t fault the effort,? said Thibodeau. ?Probably the biggest thing I noticed was our lack of speed and we couldn?t create any separation and that makes things really tough because you don?t have a lot of time and you have to make your decisions very quickly.?
?Defensive zone I felt we struggled with our communication, it?s going to take some time for these guys to trust one another out there. It?s a work in progress but I did like a lot of things that I saw.?
Friday?s game against the Oilers (35-6-3) was a defensive battle with neither team giving up a whole lot. The final shots were 23-13 in favour of the Oilers as neither team generated much offence. The difference in the game was when a scoring chance did occur, the Oilers buried while the MOB did not.
Declan Douthart scored his first goal as an Oil Baron to open the scoring 7:01 into the game but the Oilers scored two before the period was out from Jack Works and Eric Parker. They would add a shorthanded goal late in the second period which really took the wind out of the Oil Barons sails when Zane Kindrachuk ripped a shot short side on Evan Fradette.
?It?s a fragile group right now and you want to push for the win but not at the expense of evaluating what you have and how best to coach that group and put them in a situation where they can cease a chance to win in the future,? said Thibodeau. ?We have to learn our lessons and I told them I?m proud of them, they worked hard but we didn?t work smart but we?ll improve on that.?
Saturday night saw a much better effort from the MOB as they battled all evening against the second place Saints.
After Ryan Peckford put the visitor?s on the board with a power play goal, the MOB responded with one of their own when Hunter Lamb finished off a Michael Hodge pass in front to tie the game 1-1.
The Saints (33-11-2) capitalized on a pair of Oil Barons (15-29-2) turnovers to end the first and start the second period as they built up a 3-1 lead. Peckford scored his second of the game before Brecon Wood knocked in his first as a Saint.
But the MOB showed no quit and slowly chipped away at the lead. Tyler Wallace brought the crowd to it?s feet with a dazzling display of speed and skill as he waltzed around a Saints defender before snapping a shot past the glove hand of Max Duchesne.
?I told the guys on the bench I don?t see well in my old age was that McDavid or Wallace?? said Thibodeau with a laugh. ?That was a heck of a play.?
Riley Bodnarchuk would tie the game 3-3 early in the third period when his point shot slipped through the legs of Duchesne.
The Saints would find a way to get their lead back when Ethan Edwards found a loose puck in front of the MOB goal and Brayden Nicholettes did the same to add an insurance marker.
Cameron Beson picked up the loss but made a number of highlight reel saves including a blocker save off Edwards in the third period while doing the splits.
?That?s the first time I?ve seen him and very impressive for a young goaltender and I love his character. He came up to me after the game and said coach I should?ve had the fifth one and I love the fact he takes responsibility,? said Thibodeau on Beson.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com
Photo by: Dan Lines