The Fort McMurray Oil Barons kicked off the 2017-18 Alberta Junior Hockey League season with the long bus ride to Grande Prairie to take on a much improved Storm team.
The Storm had the edge in play in the game’s opening and closing minutes, creating frantic pressure in front of the MOB goal but it would be the Oil Barons who skated away with the 3-2 win to open the season.
“I told the players, I’ll accept this type of execution and effort for September 16th but I don’t want to see it come January or February 16th,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca with a laugh. “The game went sort of how we thought it was going to be, sloppy.”
The insertion of four former QMJHL players into the Storm line-up was evident right from the get go as Grande Prairie created several early chances but were unable to beat Eric Szudor.
The MOB dressed 11 forwards and seven defencemen for the game with Jack Hamly out of the line-up, serving the second game of a two game suspension he received in last season’s North Division Final. With the MOB already down a forward, they were dealt an even bigger blow when Will Conley was handed a game misconduct for checking from behind 4:29 into the first period.
The Storm were unable to capitalize on their early powerplay and that allowed the Barons to use a powerplay of their own to open the scoring. Liam Izyk finished off a three-way passing play by burying a low shot from the slot past Charles-Olivier Levesque. The second year forward was recently named an assistant captain for the MOB. Izyk will be joined by Taner Miller, Will Conley and Curtis Roach while Shane Fraser will serve as captain.
The MOB would double their lead when Trevor Schroder and Luke Harvie broke free on a two on one. Schroder feathered a pass to Harvie who slapped home his first career AJHL goal at the 14:14 mark.
The 2-0 lead was short lived as the Storm cut the lead in half 1:40 later on a two on one of their own. Noah Walters found a streaking Dallas Comeau who beat Szudor up high for his first of the season.
The MOB would regain their two goal lead 2:29 into the second period when Izyk found Ryan Cox alone in the high slot. Cox hammered a shot through the legs of Levesque to give the MOB a 3-1 lead.
Just before the five minute mark of the third period, Izyk completed the Gordie Howe hat-trick when he dropped the gloves with Nowel Maarhuis after a post whistle scrum. With Izyk now out of the game, the Barons were down to nine forwards for the final 15:22, giving their rookie forwards plenty of opportunities to play in situations they might not normally get.
“You’re depending on those younger guys late in the game and I thought that they performed quite admirably,” said Keca of his young forward group.
The Storm narrowed the lead to one with a powerplay goal from Noah Walters at 9:04 when he found a loose puck in the crease. The Storm pressed late in the game as they looked to take advantage of a short MOB bench but were unable to break through. Miller and Jarred White had key blocks in the dying minutes while Szudor shut the door making 20 saves in his season debut.
“I think that we were for the most part just a step late in some of our decision making, I thought that they did a very good job of being aggressive and we turned the puck over way too many times but this is a process and you like the fact that you start the season on the road and you get the two points,” said Keca.
The two teams will meet again Sunday afternoon at Revolution Place. You can listen to the game beginning with the pre-game show at 1:45 p.m. with Taylor Pope on Country 93.3.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com.