By Tyler King
If winning is contagious, then the Fort McMurray Oil Barons have one of the most severe infections in franchise history.
Yet again, they’ve found a way to pull off two consecutive wins against quality opponents to extend their season-opening winning streak.
Last Friday night, in one of their less impressive performances of the season, they managed to down the Okotoks Oilers 2-1 in overtime in front of more than 1,600 fans at the Casman Centre.
The Oilers had been the only team this season to beat the defending national champion Brooks Bandits; and goaltender Jared d’Amico had robbed the MOB blind on a bevy of scoring chances through regulation. But with a Ryan Bloom shot and Zach Wittenburg deflection on a delayed penalty in overtime, the point was rendered moot, and the Barons’ record was rendered 6-0.
Despite the win, head coach Gord Thibodeau wasn’t in a celebratory mood afterwards.
“I didn’t think we deserved it,” he said. “We had enough power plays that this shouldn’t have been a one goal game, but unfortunately there’s something that happens when you win a lot; the ears tend to close, and we don’t tend to listen much. That’s going on right now.”
The critical analysis isn’t a product of negativity on the coach’s part; it’s a product of decades of experience, and knowing what kinds of habits will result in long-term playoff success. Giving up forty-plus shots is definitely not high atop that list, as the Barons did, especially considering the team had 10 power plays in the game, on which they only converted once.
Things definitely got a bit better on Saturday night when the 3-1 Canmore Eagles came to town.
The MOB got goals from 4 different scorers, and rookie goalie Jesse Gordichuk did his best Tanner Jaillet impression for a solid second win, as the Barons made it a 7-0 start with a 4-2 win in front of another 1,500 plus crowd.
“I thought the effort was better, and we certainly had a lot more energy,” said Thibodeau. “Our decision-making, I think, really needs to improve. We’ve had some bad decisions made by some skilled players that are coming back to cost us, and frankly it gets frustrating.”
Certainly not a source of frustration, however, was the performance of the Penticton, B.C. native Gordichuk, whose two starts in a MOB uniform have seen him allow only 1 and 2 goals in each start. On that night, Gordichuk set a new career high with 35 saves.
“He played well,” Thibodeau said. “There were a lot of perimeter shots, but again the key for him is that he doesn’t give up rebounds. It’s very tough to get a second or third shot opportunity against him. He tends to smother those rebounds or direct them to the corners, and he’s just proving that he’s going to be a very good junior A goalie.”
The term “very good” would be an understatement to describe the team as a whole right now. Its stacked group of skilled forwards has shown such depth that even when some major weapons go on short-term slumps, there’s more than enough talent remaining to pick up the slack.
But the task will get no easier this weekend with another 3 games in 3 days on the road. It’s the annual AJHL Showcase weekend in Spruce Grove starting Friday afternoon at 4:30 pm in a rare weekday mid-day tilt with the Olds Grizzlys. The following afternoon the MOB will take on the Calgary Mustangs, who’ve had an unusually hot start to the season, then finish it off in Lloydminster against the Bobcats Sunday afternoon in the first of 6 meetings between those two North division foes.
When all is said and done, ten games will have been played by the Barons – and as tough a task as a 10-0 record would be, it’d be nothing close to a safe bet to say that’s unattainable for this squad.
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