FORT MCMURRAY, ALBERTA (August 17, 2013) – In front of a pre-season record crowd of 1,363, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons opened their 2013 exhibition schedule with a 3-1 win over the visiting Notre Dame Hounds, in a game whose impacts were felt far beyond the ice surface.
It was the first-ever Dream a Dream 17 game, played in honour of former Notre Dame student Mandi Schwartz, who passed away from leukemia in 2011. A swab station for the OneMatch Bone Marrow Database operated outside the arena all afternoon, while money raised from ticket sales and a massive silent auction helped to support both the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and local charity Kids Forever.
The benches were star-studded as well, with Mandi’s brother Jaden of the St. Louis Blues taking the coaching reigns for his former team at Notre Dame, while being supported by his brother Rylan and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Brandon Gormley, also Hounds alumni.
For the Barons, Florida Panthers forward and national champion in his time as an Oil Baron Scottie Upshall ran the bench, flanked on either side by his brother Brent and former MOB captain Carson Cooper.
The Hounds dictated the early pace of play with several big hits and an opening goal just 3:30 into the first frame, when Cory Anderson swept a puck in front from behind the net for a quick tap in from Keegan Milligan, beating MOB netminder Jesse Gordichuk.
Perhaps the biggest crowd reaction came when one of the many local players for the MOB, new acquisition Kaiden Tobin, dropped the mitts for a lengthy tilt with Notre Dame's Yannis Mamais a few minutes later in the first.
The tide turned in favour of the MOB after that, with the tying goal coming off of a power-play one timer from Mitchell Byrne, set up perfectly from a cross-crease one-timer by linemate Mitchell Vanderlaan. The two played the prior season together at Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick, and would key the MOB offence all night long.
After a scoreless second period, the Barons took a permanent lead in the final frame, potting three more goals while new goaltender Garrett Storms shut the door for just under 30 minutes of second half play.
First, a spectacular move by Byrne in the slot opened up a pass to a wide open Vanderlaan at the side of the net; he roofed the puck for the eventual game-winning goal just over a minute into the third.
About two minutes later, a dropback pass by local product Kole Gable ricocheted off the skate of a Notre Dame defender, straight to fellow local and veteran forward Kyle Campbell, who fed a diagonal pass to the side of the net for a quick goal by Danton Ayotte for a comfortable two-goal MOB lead.
Campbell would then be the one to cap off the scoring with an empty netter in the final minute to seal the MOB win.
“I was impressed with my team,” said Upshall after his coaching debut. “There’s a lot of young kids trying out, playing really hard; they’re learning systems and at the same time they’re trying to impress. “I was just trying to roll lines and have fun with it.”
“They did a great job organizing this,” said Schwartz. “Credit goes to the people who organized this – Christos [Kalogirou] and his buddies – they did an unbelievable job to get this many people out here. It was a lot of fun.”
Upshall had a simple explanation for the Barons’ quick change of pace after a slightly slow start to the game.
“I had to bring a chalkboard in after the first, smash a couple of markers on it, and get the boys fired up,” he chuckled.
For Schwartz, the impact of the game went far beyond his nostalgic return to his alma mater; with this just the latest in a long line of efforts the Schwartz family has made to honour Mandi’s memory.
“This is something we want to keep going, and keep getting bigger if we can,” he said. “I think this is the biggest one so far, and hopefully we can build on it. I think a lot of people learned quite a bit from this weekend.”
But despite the excitement of putting himself behind the bench, Schwartz doesn’t see himself suggesting a greater management role for himself with the Blues in his sophomore season.
“I don’t think Hitch would let that fly,” he said with a smile of head coach Ken Hitchcock.
The Barons’ main tryout camp continues next week before the intraleague exhibition schedule begins with a road trip to Drayton Valley on September 23rd and 24th.