The Fort McMurray Oil Barons collapsed like we haven’t seen all season Saturday night en route to a second straight loss and third in their last five games.
Leading 5-3 in the third period, the Drayton Valley Thunder scored three unanswered goals to defeat the MOB 6-5 in a wild game at the Drayton Valley Omniplex.
Needing just two points over their final two games to clinch the North Division, the MOB (43-13-3) started the game like a team on a mission.
The MOB scored three goals in a 3:30 span to open up a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes. Quickly forgetting about a 5-3 loss the night prior in Spruce Grove.
Brandon Ralph opened the scoring with his 30th of the year as Taner Miller’s point shot bounced off the end boards to the captain at the side of the goal. Ralph flipped the puck over a sprawled out Parker Tobin.
Stefan Wood made it 2-0 when the defenceman jumped up in the play and banged home a Jarred White rebound for his second goal in back to back nights.
Ralph added his second of the period on a brilliant rush up ice. Ralph walked around the Thunder defence before ripping a shot into the top corner for his 31st goal and 60th point of the year.
The second period was like another team came out of the dressing room for the MOB. The Thunder began to hem the MOB in their own zone and with defensive assignments missed, the Thunder (17-39-4) cut the lead to 3-2 with two goals in the opening 4:13 of the period.
Anthony Orubor and Mackenzie Harden were each left behind the MOB defence and were able to beat a helpless Josh Williams.
“You get up 3-0 and then you have a bunch of players on your team who think it’s point night and they just want to get points rather than having enough guys understand that probably when all is said and done that the most important points are the two points you would get for the W,” said a visibly frustrated MOB head coach Tom Keca after the game.
“We could not sit enough guys because we would’ve only played with forwards.”
After Harden cut the lead to one, Will Conley put the MOB back up by two, 21 seconds later. Ryan Cox spotted Conley open in the slot. Conley took the pass and fired a shot through the legs of Tobin for his 15th goal of the season.
The Thunder cut the lead to one before the period was out when Matt Benko blasted a shot past Williams on an odd man rush.
The Barons started the third period quickly when Jack Hamly tapped in a Cox feed in front. The goal was Hamly’s 8th and snapped a 29 game goalless drought. The sigh of relief was evident on the Sherwood Park native’s face after the goal.
The Thunder showed no quit and tied the game with two quick goals 1:20 apart from Felip Gosselin and Tyler Benko.
With the game tied 5-5 it was Tobin who gave the Thunder a chance to win as he robbed Shane Fraser who was left all alone in tight. Tobin threw up the glove hand then stopped the rebound as Fraser tried to tuck the puck in at the side of the goal.
The Thunder broke the tie with 2:15 left when Marcus Walter sent a harmless looking shot through from the left point. The shot eluded Williams and gave the Thunder their first lead of the game.
With the net empty the Barons pressed for an equalizer. The best chance came off the stick of Brandon Ralph. Cox centred a pass out front that Ralph hammered on goal but Tobin shut the door making his biggest of 32 saves on the night.
“We haven’t done anything easy all year and we still have one more crack at this tomorrow (Sunday),” said Keca who noted that was the team’s first loss of the season when leading after 2 periods (31-1-0).
“We talked about this when everything was going well and we were on that 19 game unbeaten streak, we warned our guys it’s about how you’re playing come March 9th. Right now we’re in a bit of a funk but in the course of a game where you have a 3-0 lead and 5-3 lead in the third period and you can’t hang on to it and play better, then you deserve to lose.”
With the loss and a Whitecourt win Saturday night, the two teams are now separated by one point and will play for first place in the North Division Sunday afternoon at the Scott Safety Centre.
Pre-game show begins at 2:15 p.m. on Country 93.3 with Taylor Pope.
“We need to man up and come out with a better effort. This group has responded well all year and I thought we responded well in the first period but we fell off the rails and had too many selfish individuals in the dressing room,” said Keca.
Drayton Valley’s win puts them in 6th place and they will have a first round match-up with the Spruce Grove Saints. The other series to be determined already is the 4th seeded Bonnyville Pontiacs and 5th seed Sherwood Park Crusaders.
Either the MOB or Wolverines will play the 7th seeded Grande Prairie Storm in the first round. It all comes down to the final game of the AJHL regular season.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmurray.com.
Photogrpaher: Dan Lines