FORT McMURRAY, AB (December 2, 2014) – The Fort McMurray Oil Barons (17-12-3) got two goals and an assist from alternate captain Mitch Vanderlaan (Hanwell, NB) and a three-point night from veteran Trent Lofthouse (Surrey, BC) en route to a 4-2 home win over the Bonnyville Pontiacs in front of 1,321 fans at the Casman Centre on Tuesday night.
With the win, the Barons moved into a third-place tie in the AJHL’s North division with the Lloydminster Bobcats, who have a game in hand on the MOB. The Barons are two points out of second place, with two games in hand on the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
“The guys were fantastic blocking shots, getting into lanes; I thought we barely gave them entry in the first two periods,” said Oil Barons head coach and general manager Curtis Hunt, who said his team’s perfect penalty kill was the key to the win. “In terms of the team game, it was sporadic, but it was some good steps; and in the right direction.”
Vanderlaan opened the scoring at the 16:23 mark of the first period with a wrist shot from the right-wing faceoff circle that perfectly picked the top-left corner of the net, beating Bonnyville goalie Reid Kilburn to make it 1-0.
In the second period, both teams scored in the span of 39 seconds of playing time. First, Danton Ayotte (Wetaskiwin, AB) fired a shot on goal that produced a rebound for rookie Austin Holmes (Calgary, AB) to deposit for his second goal in as many games to make it 2-0. But soon after, Kyler Hehn jammed a shot in from the side of the net for the first blemish on goalie Zach Fortin’s (St. Jerome, PQ) night, narrowing the deficit to one.
A stellar start to the third for the visitors saw Dillan McCombie fire a shot from the slot past Fortin to make it 2-2; but the Barons would take over from there.
First, Vanderlaan scored his second of the night at the 8:18 mark when he found a loose puck produced by a Trent Lofthouse backhand shot, and fired a turnaround wrister over the glove hand of Kilburn for a 3-2 lead. Just under two minutes later – 1:59 later to be exact – Vanderlaan dished the puck from the high slot to Lofthouse at the left-wing faceoff circle, whose one-time slapshot beat Kilburn to extend the lead to 4-2.
“We came out not as strong as we would have liked in the third, but we came together and it was definitely a good boost for the team to pull that one out,” said Vanderlaan, who recorded the first multi-goal game of his AJHL career.
“[Assistant coach Ryan Allen] and I have been working a lot after practice on getting pucks away quickly and trying to get them upstairs, especially in the slot,” said Vanderlaan of his second goal. “It’s something we do after almost every practice, and it definitely helped on that play.”
The Barons went 0 for 2 on the power play but a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill. Zach Fortin saved 29 of 31 Bonnyville shots for his tenth win in the AJHL, as the MOB was outshot by a 31-29 margin.
The win capped off a five-game homestand for the Oil Barons, who will travel south on Thursday and kick off a three-game road trip Friday night in Okotoks against the Oilers at 7 P.M., followed by games in Brooks against the Bandits on Saturday night, and at the Max Bell Centre in Calgary against the Canucks on Sunday afternoon.
The MOB’s next home game is Wednesday, December 10th when the division-leading Spruce Grove Saints come to town for a 7:30 puck drop.