The Fort McMurray Oil Barons came into this weekend with their sights set on first place in the North Division. With the Whitecourt Wolverines idle, the MOB were able to gain ground and they did more than that, they passed the Wolverines.
The MOB (33-10-1) hold sole position of first place in the AJHL’s North Division after sweeping all three games this weekend concluding with a 1-0 win over the Olds Grizzlys Sunday afternoon. To make things even more impressive, the Barons have won nine games in a row, their longest winning streak of the season.
“This was a tough road trip. For us to come down here play three games in two and a half days and get six points, we couldn’t have done anything else,” said MOB head coach Tom Keca.
Sunday’s game looked destined for overtime with the scored tied 0-0 as neither team was able to find the back of the net through the first 57:23. That was until Ryan Cox rifled home his 13th goal of the year in the game’s final minutes.
Cox set up in the left faceoff circle as Will Conley curled out of the corner. Cox who returned to the lineup Sunday after serving his four game suspension took the pass from Conley and blasted a shot past the blocker arm of Andrew Henderson.
“He found that soft area and Will (Conley) found him and made a great pass and he didn’t need a half a second to get the puck off his stick and in the net,” said Keca of the goal. “Those are the type of goals that he’s scored all throughout his career and we’re hoping he continues to score those.”
Eric Szudor stopped all 30 Grizzly shots fired his way and picked up his fourth shutout of the year. His biggest save was off Landon Gross in the first period as Gross came in clean but couldn’t get the puck up and over Szudor’s pad.
“Szudor actually did a great job this weekend of being more vocal in the dressing room so you know it’s important when those types of players feel the need to be more vocal and we appreciate that as coaches,” said Keca of his goaltender.
Szudor’s counterpart was nearly perfect as Henderson stopped 35 of 36 shots in a losing effort.
Despite claiming first place and picking up three wins this weekend, it came at a cost as the injury bug made its way throughout the team.
Toby Shattler slid awkwardly into the end boards in the second period leaving the game and didn’t return. He will be out week to week with a lower body injury. On the Country 93.3 post game show Keca announced that Will Conley will be put on the shelf for the next few weeks.
“Well that doesn’t make me feel any better because we’re going to lose him now for 2-3 weeks because of a procedure he has to go through,” said Keca when told the team is 21-1 when Conley registers a point this season.
JC Thivierge will be out for the next 4-6 weeks and Stefan Wood remains sidelined on the back end while Matteo Aiello sat out Sunday’s game to rest a nagging injury.
The Oil Barons will be tested more than ever in the final 16 games of the season with a slew of injuries to overcome and ten games against teams over .500 including five against the Wolverines.
“We always say that throughout the course of a year, teams that are successful and poised to win championships they have to have a lot of luck on their side as well,” said Keca about the adversity this team will need to overcome. “This is going to be a very trying time for us, we’re arguably entering the hardest part of our schedule, not just because of the teams we’re going to face but also because of the point of the season we’re at and this will again test the character and leadership in our room.”
Next up for the MOB is a pair of games against the Sherwood Park Crusaders at the Casman Centre on Friday and Saturday. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. for both games.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com.
Photographer: Dan Lines