It was a battle of the top two teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League Friday night as the Fort McMurray Oil Barons headed to Okotoks to take on the undefeated Oilers.
The Oilers were a perfect 10-0-0 coming into the game but were up against an Oil Barons team that had won three straight and sat in first place in the North Division with an 8-1-1 record.
The teams battled hard right to the final buzzer and it was the Oil Barons who came away victorious with a 4-2 win to knock off the number one ranked team in the country.
“As a coaching staff we said this was going to be a huge test of character for us if we could withstand the speed that we had heard of Okotoks and I thought we did a phenomenal job,” said MOB head coach Tom Keca.
The Oilers showcased that speed early on when Marc Pasemko flew down the left wing and beat Eric Szudor through the five hole 1:40 into the hockey game to put the Oilers up 1-0.
The Barons headed to a powerplay just over three minutes after the goal when the Oilers were caught with too many men on the ice. The MOB’s powerplay has been abysmal so far this season. Ranked 15th in the AJHL with just three powerplay goals.
The MOB however were able to break an 0-20 streak when JC Thivierge fired a shot on goal from the point that bounced off the skate of Owen Reith and past Ben Howard for the teams first powerplay goal in five games.
The Barons knew they had to play to the Oilers level if they were to be successful against the league’s best and that meant doing a much better job of winning puck battles along the boards.
The rookie line of Jackson Verstraete, Luke Harvie and Connor Lyons were able to hem the Oilers deep for over a minute near the mid-way point of the second period, wearing them down. Owen Reith came off the bench and stripped the Oilers defender as he tried to clear the zone. Reith undressed an Oilers player and an errand stick on the ice before feeding a wide open Verstraete on the far post. Verstraete buried his 3rd goal of the year past Howard to put the Oil Barons out in front 2-1.
“They hemmed them in for about a minute and it was just non stop. We talk about being relentless on the forecheck and even when you think you’re not going to get there as long as you put forth an effort, you never know when the puck may bounce or it might hit something and you might cause a turnover,” said Keca.
The Barons continued their relentless forecheck in the third period when Liam Izyk stole the puck in centre ice and dumped it into the near corner. Reed Morison was the first player to the puck and centred to Izyk who found some room in front of the Oilers goal. Izyk snapped a shot far side on Howard for his 2nd goal of the year to give the MOB a 3-1 lead with ten minutes left in the third period.
The Oilers didn’t quit and two minutes after the Izyk goal, Austin Wong blew past the MOB defence and cut hard towards the goal and tucked the puck around the outstretched leg of Szudor to cut the lead to one.
The Oilers outshot the MOB 28-14 in the final two periods but Szudor stood his ground and shut the door the rest of the way making 34 saves in the game and picking up his 6th win.
Taner Miller added an insurance goal late into the empty net to seal the win. The goal was the defenceman’s first of the year and assisted by Shane Fraser and Will Conley who had two helpers in the game.
“Full credit to our players, I told them after the game that this was as close to an Oil Baron effort as we had 60 times last year so obviously it’s in the dressing room to give an effort like that, it’s just a matter of finding it on a consistent basis,” said Keca.
The Barons will finish off the three game road trip Saturday night in Olds against the Grizzlys. You can listen to the game beginning with the pre-game show with Taylor Pope at 6:45 p.m. on Country 93.3.
MOB Head Coach Tom Keca on the Country 93.3 Post-Game Show.