by Tyler King
Two key storylines emerged from this past weekend’s Oil Barons games against the Grande Prairie Storm. After a slow start to the season, sophomore forward Danton Ayotte returned to the form for which he was well known in his rookie campaign last season, notching three points, a big hit, and a fight over the course of two wins. As well, in game two, Saskatoon native Brett Lewchuk impressed in his first start in a MOB uniform, as the goaltender made 33 saves to earn his team a well-deserved 3-1 win.
After a rookie season in which he scored 16 goals in limited playing time, Ayotte had found himself mired in just a four-point season, with two goals and two assists, as we hit the halfway mark of the year. But on Friday, his game-winning goal and insurance goal doubled his season total in the stat, and played an integral role in a 4-1 MOB victory, with both of Ayotte’s goals coming after Mark Drohan’s power play marker sent teddy bears flying to the ice in the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss.
“The team was fired up – everyone wanted to score that first Teddy Bear Toss goal, so I think everyone was just trying to get in there and crash the net,” said Ayotte.
It’s been an adjustment for the Wetaskiwin native, who played last year as a winger but has seen plenty of shifts at centre this season.
“I used to play centre in bantam, so it’s a familiar position for me,” he said. “I like playing wing too, but if Huntsy [head coach Curtis Hunt] wants me at centre, as long as I’m in the lineup, it doesn’t matter where I play. I’ll play defence.”
After a stretch of three consecutive games as a healthy scratch, and nearly two months without a goal, both the coach and player had optimistic thoughts about #20’s future.
“I’ve got to stick to the way I play, and the way that Huntsy wants me to play,” said Ayotte. “I tried to do that tonight, and I got rewarded, so I’m going to try to do that as much as possible so I stay in the lineup.”
“I think that’s the kind of game he needs to play day in and day out,” said Hunt. “I thought the best part of his game was the defensive play he made at our net, when they pulled the goalie, and he saved an opportunity there.”
Brett Lewchuk came into the MOB as a relative unknown to back up starting goalie Zach Fortin after last year’s number two Jesse Gordichuk was traded to Olds. After three games in a backup role and just over a full week of practice with the team, Lewchuk didn’t disappoint, and he embraced the experience.
“From watching the previous three games, I saw all the fans, and how fast our guys were, but tonight was just something else,” he said. “I thought we played on a difference level, and being on the ice, you could pretty much hear the fans ten times louder, and hearing them support you is just an unbelievable feeling.”
He added that though there was pressure on him in his first AJHL start, that may have worked in his favour.
“With everybody seeing me out here for the first time, they don’t know where I come from, or what I’ve done, so I wanted to give them a good showing as my first time out here,” he said. “It was nice that I was able to, and hopefully I can just keep that going.”
The Barons will aim to keep that momentum going this weekend when they embark on their final three-in-three road trip of the season, with Friday and Saturday evening dates in Okotoks and Brooks against top-tier teams, followed by a Sunday matinee against the Calgary Canucks.
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