It was standing room only at the Casman Centre Tuesday night as the Fort McMurray Oil Barons took on the Whitecourt Wolverines in Game 7 of their North Division semi-final.
The Oil Barons had clawed their way back into the series after being down 3-games-to-1 picking up a 3-2 victory in Game 5 and a convincing 5-1 win in Game 6.
Game 7 like it’s been all series was a battle right until the final whistle and for a third time in the series the game was decided in overtime. A harmless looking shot from the left boards 10:11 into the first overtime by Yannick Bertrand squeaked through Eric Szudor and trickled across the goal line sending the Wolverines to the North Division Final where they will meet the Spruce Grove Saints.
“This one is tough, especially to lose it on that type of goal but I’m extremely proud of the group in that dressing room and the way they conducted themselves throughout the course of the year,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca of his team that finished second in the North Division with a 42-13-5 record.
It was Bertrand who opened the scoring in the game as well as he was sprung on a breakaway and beat Szudor through the legs 5:36 into the first period. The goal came seconds after the Wolverines had just killed off an Oil Barons 5-on-3 powerplay.
The MOB responded quickly as the building erupted 32 seconds later when Reed Morison fired a shot over the left shoulder of Xavier Potvin after a nice feed from Curtis Roach to tie the game.
The Wolverines would take the lead a second time just prior to the mid-way point of the period when Liam Motley banged in a loose puck on a powerplay. Both team’s struggled on the man-advantage in the series with the Wolverines finishing 4-32 and the MOB a horrendous 1-27.
“With the amount of skill that we have to do that, that’s eventually going to come back and bite you and I thought that we got opportunities throughout the course of this game to capitalize and they score the one powerplay goal in the game and we didn’t and that’s unacceptable,” said Keca of his team’s powerplay struggles. The Barons lone powerplay goal was the first goal of the series by Taner Miller in Game 1.
Liam Motley would put Whitecourt up 3-1 late in the second period when he finished off a two-on-one rush with Bertrand. Again, it was the Barons roaring right back however as Shane Fraser buried a drop pass from Will Conley past Potvin 29 seconds later to cut the lead to 3-2 after the second period.
The sold out crowd nearly tore the roof off the Casman Centre 3:05 into the third period when Morison scored his second goal of the game with a shot from the top of the circle to tie the game 3-3. The goal was Morison’s 7th of the playoffs and 6th in the series.
“The atmosphere in here was unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it that loud when Morison scored that goal in the third period but they (the crowd) were trying to get us going,” said Keca of the 1,937 fans in attendance.
Both teams had chances in the third period and early in overtime to end the game before Bertrand’s shot ended the series.
“I thought it was a great series and I felt that we were the better team for 60 minutes. We had some great chances especially in the second period but at the end of the day it’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Keca.
For the Oil Barons six 20 year olds, it was their final junior game. Goalie Eric Szudor put together a tremendous three year career as an Oil Baron. The Edmonton native played 117 career games with the MOB both regular season and playoffs and finished with a 63-37-11 record and 8 shutouts. He had a career 2.75 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. Szudor is headed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage NCAA Div. 1 next season.
Will Conley leaves the Oil Barons as one of their all-time top goal scorers after a 48 goal regular season this year. The first Oil Baron to top 40 goals since the 2000-01 season when Colin Murphy scored 47. Conley finishes his Oil Baron tenure with 88 goals and 163 points in 161 career games after coming over in a trade from the Brooks Bandits. The Strathmore product was one of the most exciting players to watch at the Casman Centre. Every time he touched the puck, every fan was on the edge of their seat. Conley is off to Holy Cross NCAA Div.1 next season.
For the captain Shane Fraser, he spent his entire three year career with the MOB and became one of the best two-way players in the AJHL. He was recognized as the leagues Most Dedicated Player this season. Fraser had 46 goals and 115 points in 175 career games in a MOB jersey.
Veteran blueliners Curtis Roach and JC Thivierge came to the Oil Barons last season and immediately began to dominate from the backend. They gave the MOB the ability to create offense from anywhere on the ice and coaches throughout the league knew it was like playing against four forwards. Roach came over in a deal with the SJHL’s Flin Flon Bombers and racked up 108 points in 116 career games. He was a finalist for Defenceman of the year in 2016-17 and may have won the award this season had he not missed 22 games with injury. Thivierge joined the MOB after a season in the QMJHL and put up 86 points in 120 games both regular season and playoffs.
Lastly, Coy Prevost came to the MOB at the CJHL trade deadline from the Canmore Eagles. The former Eagles captain gave the Oil Barons added depth and a veteran presence. Prevost played 28 games in total for the MOB, registering 18 points. He finishes his junior career with 66 goals and 146 points in 196 games split between the MOB and Eagles.
Also graduating is Merritt Oszytko who is committed to RIT NCAA Div. 1 next season. The first year Oil Baron came over in an early season trade with the Sherwood Park Crusaders and quickly became a key piece to the MOB’s top line. In 48 regular season and playoff games with the Oil Barons, Oszytko had 43 points. In his junior career the Edmonton native scored 50 goals and 126 points in 173 games with the MOB and Crusaders.
MOB Head Coach Tom Keca on the Country 93.3 Post-Game Show
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com
Photo by: Dan Lines