VIDEO & AUDIO: Barons split pre-season weekend in DV

DRAYTON VALLEY, AB (Aug. 25, 2013) – The Fort McMurray Oil Barons (2-1) split two games in Drayton Valley as their first pre-season road trip saw the team register a 4-1 win on Friday night, followed by a 3-1 loss the following evening.

29 players in total suited up over the course of the two games, with head coach Gord Thibodeau observing from the stands in the leadup to final roster decisions over the next couple of weeks.

On Friday, it was a dominating start for the MOB, with a Mackenzie Watson power play point shot opening the scoring 6 minutes in, followed by a second power play goal from Mitchell Byrne four minutes later.

Thunder forward Nathan Smith got his team on the board just over a minute into the second, but a chance to tie the game on a Brendan McKay penalty shot resulted in a stellar save by goaltender Tanner Jaillet, and two minutes later Kevin Miller scored the MOB’s third power play goal to make it 3-1.

The scoring was capped off by the same dominant Miller-Hayden Dawes-Jetlan Houcher line, when Dawes converted a rebound at the 15:12 mark of the second for the final 4-1 score.

Jaillet went the full 60 minutes and was credited with 35 saves on 36 shots, including multiple shorthanded breakaway saves.

Saturday night was a very different story for a Barons team that ended up scratching the Miller-Dawes-Houcher unit.

With 4:23 left in the first period, Drayton Valley forward Braden Jakubowski tipped a point shot past goalie Garrett Storms to open the scoring. 5 minutes into the second frame, it was new acquisition Tanner Clarkson converting a rebound to double that lead.

Just prior to the teams switching goalies halfway through the game, Storms made a stellar save on a 2-man breakaway for the Thunder, and minutes later MOB defenceman Louis-Joseph Sawyer found the back of the net from the blue line to get the Barons on the board.

But the Thunder took only one minute and one second to reply, when Michael Cardinal beat new goalie Jesse Gordichuk at the 12:57 mark for a 3-1 lead that the Thunder would not relinquish.

With just 2:40 left, the lone fight of the weekend went down, with DV forward Ty Bettac getting the best of Barons forward Colten Meaver.

“We’re just trying to evaluate guys; vets and rookies alike,” said head coach and general manager Gord Thibodeau. “We’re trying to get the vets some game time, and evaluate guys in a bit of a tougher setting than what you had in main camp.”

“We got some good reads on some players this weekend.”

The Barons assigned captaincy letters to six different players over the course of the weekend; on Friday, Jetlan Houcher was captain with Alex Cromwell and Austin Yadlowski as alternates, while on Saturday it was Zach Wittenburg with the “C”, alongside alternates Adam Durkee and Ryan Bloom.

The team hasn’t yet announced its regular season captain.

“We’ve narrowed down our captaincy; we’re just trying to share the load through exhibition,” said Thibodeau. “I think we’re getting close to finalizing the final four that we want. We’ll watch through exhibition, and make that decision in a week’s time.”

The decision on who will back up expected number 1 goalie Jaillet also wasn’t made particularly clearer over the weekend.

“These two guys [Gordichuk and Storms] have done okay,” said Thibodeau. “I wouldn’t say that anyone’s jumped up and grabbed it, but I wouldn’t also say it’s just these two guys. There might be more added to the mix in the future.”

Thibodeau says he expects to enter next week’s pre-season tournament in Okotoks with about 26 players on the roster; but he emphasized that few spots are safe at this point.

“There’s some very good 18-and under kids here that certainly have earned more opportunity, and definitely are close to earning roster spots,” he said. “I think the surprises are going to come in the number of veterans that aren’t going to make the team.”

“We’ve had that turnover with a couple of guys leaving already, and there’s going to be a few more leaving here in the next couple of weeks.”

The MOB’s pre-season schedule resumes Thursday night when they take on the Okotoks Oilers at 7:45pm.