History was made Friday night at the Casman Centre as former Oil Barons bench boss Gord Thibodeau picked up win number 833 to become the AJHL’s all time winningest coach.
The Whitecourt Wolverines (35-10-4) dominated the game, outshooting the MOB (34-10-3) 49-20 but it took overtime and an Eric Krienke breakaway goal to give Thibodeau the record and a 2-1 win.
In a very classy move after the game, Oil Barons head coach Tom Keca immediately went over to Thibodeau and gave his long time friend a hug and the MOB stayed on the ice to shake Thibodeau’s hand.
Thibodeau spent 11 years coaching the Oil Barons between 2003 and 2014, leading the MOB to an AJHL championship in 2006. He led the team to six 40 win seasons and compiled over 400 wins while in Fort McMurray.
“It’s obviously a special time the 11 years I had here and roughly half of my wins came in Fort McMurray so if you can’t do it at home in front of your home fans then Lloydminster or Fort McMurray would’ve been the two picks that I would’ve had and I’m just honoured to be able to be in the same company as Don Phelps,” said Thibodeau on breaking the record.
Keca got his start under Thibodeau as an assistant coach with the MOB and it was a very special moment for the Barons coach to see his long time friend achieve the success he’s had over his 23 year career.
“He’s had such a profound effect on me, he gave me a chance to continue my coaching career here when he hired me as an assistant coach. He was the one who encouraged me to go to Lloydminster for my first head coaching position.” said an emotional Keca. “We sit here and talk about the rink and the influence he’s had, the bigger influence is away from the rink, he’s had his struggles health wise but what he’s meant for my family I can’t put into words.”
With the MOB still battling several key injuries, the Wolverines took full advantage, out skating the MOB all night and peppering Eric Szudor.
“I thought that the only place where this game was even close was on the scoreboard. In my honest opinion was those were men playing against boys,” said a frustrated Keca after the game. “The only thing that spent more time on the ice was the zamboni because we fell at every single battle we had a guy on the ice and they just ran over us.”
The injury bug would go from bad to worse for the MOB when captain Brandon Ralph had to be helped off the ice after taking a cross check to the face from Morgan Messenger mid-way through the first period. Messenger was handed a five minute major and a game misconduct on the play. The league has reviewed the hit and slapped Messenger with a two game suspension.
“I don’t know how long Ralph is going to be out, I think there was maybe a suspected broken jaw.” said Keca while updating the status of his captain. “I thought it was an unfortunate hit.”
Despite being heavily outplayed it would be the MOB who led for a majority of the game off a first period goal from Ryan Cox. Jack Hamly fed Cox as he streaked towards the goal and tipped home a pass that beat Pierce Diamond for his 15th goal of the year.
The game would remain that way until a late powerplay goal by the Wolverines to end the second period tied the game 1-1. Stevie Bryant would deflect a Colton Meekhof point shot past Szudor for his 11th of the campaign.
The Wolverines had every opportunity to win the game in regulation but Szudor made save after save including a point blank stop off Noah Tooke late in the third period.
“They won every battle, every face-off, every race. I mean that’s a first place hockey team there and they put us in our place,” said Keca.
The teams would trade chances in overtime until Krienke broke away behind the three MOB players and pulled the puck to his backhand and went upstairs on a sprawled out Szudor.
The two teams will meet four more times in the final month of the season with each game becoming more important on who will finish a top the North Division. Whitecourt now holds a three point lead on the MOB but the Barons do hold two games in hand.
The teams will take to the ice Saturday night at the Casman Centre, puck drop is set for 8:00 p.m.
Before the game several members of the Oil Barons staff were honoured for their long time service. Trainer Pete Spiers received a framed jersey with the number 500 across the back for celebrating his 500th game on the MOB bench last weekend. Director of Operations Terry Connors and long time board member Karen Brebant were also honoured before the game.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com.
Photographer: Dan Lines