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Fort McMurray Today
Brennan Saulnier helped push the Fort McMurray Oil Barons offence into overdrive on Tuesday night as the MOB overcame a shaky start to rout the Bonnyville Pontiacs by a score of 8-3 on a historic night at the Casman Centre.
The MOB’s victory broke a 38 year-old Alberta Junior Hockey League record for longest season-opening home ice unbeaten streak and gave the Barons their 23rd home victory this season.
“Our defence didn’t move the puck very well, it cost us a couple goals but we did some good things,” said Oil Barons head coach Gord Thibodeau. “It was kind of a strange game. We looked real tight to start the the game.”
The game didn’t start out according to the MOB’s game plan, as the Pontiacs bolted out of the gate early. Michael Iovanna beating starting net minder Tanner Jaillet less than two minutes into the game to give the Pontiacs an early one goal lead.
With the pressure on the home team to score the next goal, the Barons overcame a strong physical start from the Pontiacs and levelled the score after Adam Durkee collected his own rebound and found the back of the net after separating himself from the cluster of players in front of Pontiacs net minder Stephen Klein.
Just moments later, Spencer Foo gave the Pontiacs their lead back as he shot the puck past Jaillet. That lead would be short-lived as just 19 seconds later, Brennan Saulnier tipped Durkee’s shot from centre ice and fooled Klein to bring the game back to even ground at 8:21 of the first.
From that point on, it was all Oil Barons. Kevin Miller found a wide open Jetlan Houcher who promptly deposited his team-leading 27th goal of the season in the top of the net at 11:54 of the first, which would end up giving the MOB a 3-2 lead heading into the first intermission.
The second period brought more offensive success for the home team as Ryan Bloom and Kevin Miller scored goals while crossing the slot to make the score 5-2 after 40 minutes.
The MOB saved their best for last as Saulnier dazzled in the final frame. Two individual rushes by Saulnier ended with the same result: the puck in the back of the net. Saulnier would finish the night with four points, bringing him up to 14 goals and 37 points on the season.
“We had a good chat with Brennan at practice and he was as frustrated as anybody but you got to understand that that type of frustration sometimes can wear on the group,” said Thibodeau.
“We wanted to make sure he understood he can still bring value to this team without scoring goals and wouldn’t you know it when he relaxes a little bit, look what happens.”
Following the game, Saulnier said he felt like his line with Durkee and Danton Ayotte really clicked from the opening face-off.
“I was paired with Durkee and Ayotte today and we just started clicking from the first shift I felt,” said Saulnier. “It was a good win tonight and happy to finally start contributing on the scoreboard.”
Jaillet had a rough start to his night, giving up two early goals, but he eventually settled down to make 31 saves and earn his 27th victory of the season.
“I wasn’t pleased with his game but he’s had enough good ones that we can give him a B instead of an A plus as usual,” said Thibodeau.
“He just looked a little unsure of himself and that’s just a function of you’re going to have those nights where you struggle with the puck or the puck finds a way through you. Bottom line is you’ve got to find a way to win those games and he did that.”
In addition to breaking the 38 year-old AJHL record for the longest season-opening home ice winning streak, the MOB tied the 1972-73 Calgary Canucks for third longest home ice winning streak and now have the league’s fourth longest home ice unbeaten streak.
With no penalty minutes in the game, the Oil Barons tied the AJHL record for fewest minutes in penalties for one team in a game and for the fewest minutes in penalties by both teams in one game. The last time the MOB were involved in a game with no penalty minutes for either team was Jan. 29, 1994 against the Calgary Canucks.
The MOB return to action this weekend as they host the defending RBC Cup champion Brooks Bandits on Friday and the Calgary Mustangs on Saturday with puck drop for both games scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Casman Centre.
Photo Credit: Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today