By Tyler King
There will be no more navel-gazing or talk of “the panic button” among Oil Barons fans.
Well, at least for the next week or so.
After a small yet dramatic roster makeover, the Oil Barons got back into the win column twice this past week.
First, in what might have been their best road effort of the season, the team got out to a 5-0 lead over Bonnyville last Tuesday and held on for a 5-2 win. Then back at home for a Saturday night tilt with third-place Sherwood Park, the Barons again dictated the pace of play and won 4-2 to get back over the .500 mark.
In both games, the Barons held leads after two periods of play, and they’re now 7-0 when they do that. When this team starts well, it tends to finish well.
It would be hard to deny that the pressure was on after several significant moves made by the club. The AJHL record-holder for save percentage in a season, goaltender Jesse Gordichuk, is no longer an Oil Baron, after his rights were moved to the Olds Grizzlys on Saturday afternoon before the Sherwood Park game.
It ended the one-two system that head coach Curtis Hunt had implemented at the start of the year, but which had been made impossible by Gordichuk’s more than month-long ankle injury.
Gordichuk had recovered, had put together some consecutive practices, and had dressed as the backup goalie on Tuesday night. But reportedly upset at not being named the starting goalie for that game, Gordichuk requested a trade, and the team quickly obliged.
The timing worked for the MOB because losing a 20-year old player allowed them to add former Oil Barons defenceman, and Fort McMurray native Wil Tomchuk, who had been released by the Western Hockey League’s Prince George Cougars.
Much bigger and much smarter than in his 17-year old introduction to junior hockey with the 2011-12 MOB, Tomchuk showed no signs of rust in his debut against the Crusaders, acting a steady defensive presence and good decision-maker, something the MOB’s defensive corps certainly could use.
In sending Gordichuk south, the Barons also added more depth to the forward side, with sophomore winger Kyle Star joining the organization, one season removed from a 45-point rookie campaign that saw him make up one-third of the most productive forward line in the AJHL down in Olds.
The addition of Star, coupled with the prior addition of former Calgary Canucks leading scorer Logan Franz, and combined with the return from injury of veteran ex-WHLer Trent Lofthouse, means the Oil Barons are a significantly strengthened team offensively as compared to two weeks prior. The addition of Tomchuk only helps to solidify that overall roster improvement.
Yet the greatest test for this newly redesigned group will come very shortly, as the MOB heads on the road for three straight games against North division opponents.
The last time the MOB did this, it didn’t go very well. A Friday-Saturday trip in early October saw the Barons lose 7-2 to Spruce Grove, and 5-4 to Whitecourt in a game the team had led 3-1.
This time, it begins with a rematch in Sherwood Park, followed by the team’s second matchup against the first-place Saints and second game in Whitecourt.
Three wins could re-solidify the MOB as a top-tier league contender. Three losses would mean a return to the kind of pessimism and worry that defined the month of October.
Barons fans will surely hope that their team begins to do the opposite of what the temperature in our city will be doing over the next few weeks.
It’s time for the MOB to get hot.
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