One of the better storylines I’ve been privileged to watch in my time as radio play-by-play man for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons has been the career arc of outgoing captain Mike Marianchuk.
He predates yours truly as far as association with this team goes by only a few weeks, having been acquired in the 2011 off-season just before the team began its historic trip to Russia.
He scored the first goals of that trip in the team’s only overseas win, and went on to become a highly dependable two-way forward who set career highs in offensive statistics and was named the team’s “Unsung Hero” of the season.
This year, few could’ve expected a slow start for the final-year veteran to transform as dramatically as it did after the January 10th trade deadline, when Marianchuk nearly doubled his point totals in fewer than 20 remaining games; helped in no small part by his acceptance of the team’s captaincy after the trade of Brock Maschmeyer.
But after the team’s first-round exit at the hands of the Whitecourt Wolverines, that incredibly quick surge in performance has been forced to just as quick of an end.
“It’s going to be tough to leave this city for the last time,” he said in a post-season interview a few days removed from the team’s 4-3 loss in the pivotal Game 5 of the series.
“Knowing that my junior career is now done, and I have to go back home and not worry about coming back here next year … it’s definitely going to be a different feeling for me,” he added with a clear tinge of disappointment.
Despite the early exit, Marianchuk insists the memories of the year will be primarily positive.
“Knowing what we went through with injuries in the early stages of the year, it just tells us what kind of group we had here; a lot of character guys,” he recounted. “We gave it our all, knowing the circumstances.”
The overall experience for Marianchuk does border on the near-unbelievable. Having been dealt to Fort McMurray after an 18-year old season with the Drumheller Dragons that the Innisfail native himself described as a personal disappointment; two years of stellar development and accomplishment are about as great a result as he could’ve expected or targeted.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I got the word that I’d been traded to Fort McMurray,” he remembered. “I’d heard stories, and whatnot, but it’s definitely a lot different than what I expected – and for the best.”
“I can’t say enough good things about this organization and what it’s done for my career; it’s just one of the best decisions I could have made, was coming up here to play hockey.”
Like many players who try to encapsulate the value of playing with the Oil Baron organization, Marianchuk placed the team’s culture above all else as a major factor in his success.
“Every little detail matters,” he said. “Doing all those little things right was a big part for me. Also, being around these character guys, like [Carson] Cooper last year, our captain, and Masch [Brock Maschmeyer] for most of this year, they were great leaders, and they pretty much showed me how to better myself every day, on and off the ice.”
One of the tougher questions I like to press upon Oil Barons alumni, as Marianchuk has now become, is what part of the experience of being on the team stands out the most when one’s playing time comes to an end. Number nine didn’t hesitate one second to answer.
“I think how the organization treats us, day-to-day, from the coaching staff to the board, everything”, he said. “They just treat you with outright respect, and it’s a great feeling coming to the rink, because you know everyone’s looking forward to it.”
And when asked for a parting message to the Oil Barons fans who regularly packed the rink to watch he and 19 compatriots fly the blue-and-gold, the answer was similarly quickly produced.
“This is probably one of the best hockey towns I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “From the organization, and even the fans – the fans were a huge part of this being such a great place to play hockey. The intimidation in the rink, being so loud, it’s unreal – best fans in the league, for sure.”
Now Marianchuk’s attention turns to his postsecondary commitment, where he’ll suit up next year for the Red Deer College Kings of the ACAC while taking Kinesiology, and return to the Casman Centre for a couple of games against Keyano.
But on this day, as he prepared to leave Fort McMurray for good, eight simple words summed up his most prominent focus.
“I’m going to miss everything about this place,” he said.
Without question, this place will miss him just as much.