After a brief fall in the standings, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons are back on top of the AJHL North Division.
The MOB (29-6-3) swept their three game road swing over the weekend picking up all six points available to catch the Spruce Grove Saints with 61 points. The MOB picked up wins in Bonnyville, Lloydminster and a 5-1 win Sunday in Sherwood Park. The three victories were big for the MOB as they hold two games in hand on the Saints as they now head home for five straight games at the Casman Centre.
“Our boys just dug in hard today and in the first period I thought we had stretches where we were really dominate,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca on the team’s fourth win in a row. “We had all five guys in the rush which is a style that we’ve tried to incorporate here since we got back from Christmas. We don’t want the defencemen standing on the blueline, we want them engaged.”
Sunday’s win saw the Crusaders (18-19-2) open the scoring ten minutes into the first period when William Zapernick broke down the right wing and beat Chris Curr with a low hard shot.
The lead was short lived as the MOB tied the game 1-1 just 38 seconds later. Curtis Roach showed good patience at the point before fading to the middle of the ice and putting the puck towards the Crusaders goal. Trevor Schroder deflected the shot past Brandon Vogel for his first career AJHL goal. The goal was a long time coming for the Des Moines, Iowa native who battled an early season injury but has been a regular in the MOB lineup since his return.
“I thought he played outstanding. I told him that he set the bar pretty high here,” said Keca on Schroder who scored his first goal in his 20th game. “He’s such a strong kid and I think the only thing Trevor lacks is that confidence. When you’re a new player, you’re still trying to figure out what you can and what you can’t do.”
The Barons used their speed to their advantage to take a 2-1 lead 12:34 into the period. Shane Fraser got the puck to Will Conley who was flying down the left wing and headed to the front of the goal. Conley’s intended pass to Fraser deflected off a Crusader defenceman and into the net for his team leading 28th goal.
The MOB got another before the end of the period off an offensive zone face-off win. Reed Morison chipped the puck into the corner to Jack Hamly who fired a pass into the slot area and Nicholas Leeseberg ripped home his 9th goal of the year to put the MOB up 3-1.
The league’s most dangerous penalty kill went to work in the second period when Morison chased the puck into the Crusaders end. He intercepted a pass behind the net before walking out and tucking a shot under Vogel’s arm for his second shorthanded goal in three games. Morison leads the team in shorthanded goals with three, tied with Conley and Fraser and the MOB have a league best 11 as a team.
“That’s a read that he makes and we told our guys if it’s a 50-50 puck go and if not we’re going to set up in our penalty kill forecheck. He’s got that reach where he doesn’t need a lot in order to make things happen,” said Keca.
After scoring his first goal in 14 games Saturday, Connor Lyons continued his scoring ways beating Vogel from in tight for his 4th goal of the season at the 1:24 mark giving the Barons a 5-1 lead after two periods.
Making his second start of the weekend, Chris Curr shut the door the rest of the way, stopping 17 third period shots and 33 in the game as the netminder improved his record to 11-1-2. The rookie goalie sits second in the AJHL with a sparkling .939 save percentage and third with a 1.94 goals against average.
A big date that everyone will be keeping their eye on is January 10th which is the Canadian Junior Hockey League trade deadline. With the Barons currently atop the North Division, Keca said with the team in the position they’re in, they will be considering all options but could be looking to add another piece or two by Wednesday.
“We have to make the team the best we can and you never like trading guys but it’s part of the game and we’re in a position where we think we have a pretty good team and in order for us to make the next step we might have to add,” said Keca.
“Sometimes you’re fortunate enough that you can add guys for nothing, sometimes you get guys back from injuries and that’s really the thing that I’m hesitant about is because when you look at it, we didn’t play with JC (Thivierge), Liam Izyk, Peter Tomaras and Jarred White. Those are four key guys for us so now as a coach and general manager you have to balance that you don’t want to do an addition by subtraction necessarily but we’ll see after Wednesday night if the roster is the same or whether we’re able to add.”
Thivierge, White and Tomaras are all out with minor injuries and will be on a game to game basis while Izyk continues to recover from a broken ankle and is still several weeks away from a return.
Just after the trade deadline the Barons will open up a five game homestand beginning Thursday against the Whitecourt Wolverines before playing host to the Grande Prairie Storm on Friday.
MOB Head Coach Tom Keca on the Country 93.3 Post-Game Show.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com.
Photo by: Dan Lines, Fort McMurray Oil Barons