By Tyler King
In at least the last decade, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons haven’t had as difficult an October as they did last month.
Only twice did the MOB come away with victories in the month, both times at home. One, a one-goal comeback win against Lloydminster, and the second, a 2-0 shutout win over the last place team in the league, the Calgary Mustangs.
On the road, the Barons were 0-5-2 on the month. This illustrates to some extent what a difficult month it was from a scheduling perspective, with the vast majority of games played away from the cozy confines of the Casman Centre, but that wasn’t the sole determinant of the team’s struggles.
Even upon returning for a back-to-back set of games against Spruce Grove, the Barons’ difficulty continued, as they fell by 5-2 margins on two consecutive nights on both Halloween and the first of November, dropping the team’s record below the .500 mark for the first time this season.
“At times defensively, we were atrocious,” said head coach and general manager Curtis Hunt, “we just chased the pucks in circles. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
A lack of discipline helped the Barons put winnable games out of reach. On Friday, a post-whistle cross-check to the face by defenceman Tyler Dea put Spruce Grove on a 5-minute power play on which it scored the eventual game winning goal. On Saturday, sophomore forward Danton Ayotte decided to drop his gloves and attack Saints forward Jake Mykitiuk, earning himself a fighting major, a game misconduct, and putting his team down a man for five minutes again. Two quick Spruce Grove goals turned a manageable 1-0 deficit into an early 3-0 blowout, and the Saints never looked back.
There is no question that the team has had trouble gelling with the extremely large number of player moves that have been made this year. In the midst of the last home stand, the Barons traded rookie forward Anthony Orubor to the Calgary Canucks along with future considerations, getting back two centres; Logan Franz, who played that night, and the rights to Saskatoon Blades forward Landon Welykholowa.
Though it sent another jolt to an already unstable roster, this trade may end up being a key turning point for the Barons. Franz made an immediate impact despite arriving at the rink after warmups. He’s a forward who led the Canucks in scoring despite playing in only his 17-year old year last season. If Welykholowa ever becomes an Oil Baron, he could be an offensive force in the league as well.
But the Oil Barons can’t count on that, and so it’s unlikely we have seen the last of major moves by this franchise as it aims to craft a competitive and consistent roster for the upcoming Western Canada Cup.
Some of that stabilization of the roster will come as players return from injury. Jesse Gordichuk’s recovery will finally take a load off of Zach Fortin, who has had to shoulder an undue burden on the goaltending side as Gordichuk recovered from his ankle injury. Furthermore, former WHLer Trent Lofthouse’s absence from the lineup has been a significant hindrance to offensive depth; and his return will be welcomed just as much, if not more.
The collective hand of the Oil Barons’ fan base has certainly edged closer to the panic button over the last few weeks. But it’s still too early to truly judge what this team will be able to deliver after the trading deadline of January 10th.
We knew from the beginning that patience would be necessary with a new staff taking over in such a crucial year. Now we will see how far that patience will be stretched before the end result so many fans desire is finally achieved.
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