The Fort McMurray Oil Barons clawed closer to 2nd place in the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s North division on Tuesday night, with a 5-1 win over the Grande Prairie Storm at Revolution Place.
Jetlan Houcher (Paradise Valley, AB) led the way with 2 goals and 1 assist, while Landon Welykholowa (Calgary, AB) notched 1 goal and 1 assist, and goaltender Brett Lewchuk (Saskatoon, SK) made 21 saves for the win.
With the win, the Barons moved to within 1 point of third place Bonnyville, and 3 points of second place Lloydminster, with a game in hand on both teams.
The Barons opened the scoring just 2:37 into the game when rookie forward Zach McNeill (Calgary, AB) banked a sharp-angle shot off of Storm goaltender Liam McLeod and into the back of the net for his first goal as an Oil Baron.
Just over ten minutes later, Houcher controlled the puck behind the Storm net, waited patiently, and then cut to the side of the net and feathered a pass through the crease to a waiting Mitch Vanderlaan (Hanwell, NB), who tapped the puck in back-door to double the Barons’ lead.
With 1:59 left in the opening frame, though, Dustin Gorgi converted on a one-time shot from the slot to narrow the MOB lead to 1.
The Barons responded quickly in the second, however, as Jetlan Houcher scored just 36 seconds into the frame on a spinning shot from the right faceoff circle to make it 3-1. Houcher added his second of the night and league-leading 38th of the season at the 2:33 mark of the third, on a shorthanded goal set up by a cross-crease pass from Welykholowa.
It would then be Welykholowa completing the scoring at the 15:11 mark of the third on a sharp angle backhand shot that he roofed past McLeod for his first goal as an Oil Baron as well.
“I thought in the second we started to play one-on-one way too much,” said head coach Curtis Hunt after the game. “We took some chances that we didn’t need to take. We were opportunistic, we made good on our chances, and I liked our third a little bit better.”
“I liked our compete level, our physical play, our demeanor on the ice, and I thought we managed the puck a lot better, and that’s the key is getting closer to that playoff style game.”
Three fights erupted over the course of the game; the first came 4:11 into the opening period when rookie MOB forward Austin Holmes (Calgary, AB) convincingly landed the majority of punches against Storm captain Blake Bosch. The second occurred 7:35 into the second when Zach Wittenburg (Chestermere, AB) landed a thundering, clean hit on a Storm player, and was jumped by Parker Wakaruk. Just over four minutes later, after Josh Zablocki tripped up goalie Lewchuk behind the play, Brett McNeil (Halifax, NS) came to the defence of his goalie and fought the Storm forward, in an even tilt for the two.
The Barons outshot the Storm 25-24 in the game and improved to 5-1 in the season series. Houcher ended the six-game series with 11 points against the Storm.
The MOB will take on the Whitecourt Wolverines at the Scott Safety Centre in game two of their four-game road trip on Wednesday night at 7:30. Pre-game coverage on the Oil Barons’ radio home, KAOS 91.1, begins at 7:15.