by Tyler King
After their shocking first-round exit from the AJHL playoffs, the Oil Barons sit in an unusual idle position as they wait for other leagues to determine who they’ll be sending to the 2015 Western Canada Cup to take on the MOB.
When the Barons return early next month, the intent expressed by head coach Curtis Hunt at the end of the AJHL postseason was to hold something resembling a training camp, with a larger number of players competing for spots in the team’s WCC lineup.
To that end, Hunt’s lengthy list of affiliated players, or APs, may end up being key to the team’s ability to mount a challenge for a spot at the RBC Cup national championship.
“We’re going to bring some numbers in,” said Hunt after the Game 4 loss in Sherwood Park. “We’ve got lots of affiliated players this year, and we want to get them in, and who knows? When you see a guy like [Kole] Gable step up in how he played and competed, anything can happen.”
“We had young [Eric] Szudor who’s still playing with CAC in Edmonton in their playoffs as a goaltender, he was fantastic in the practice we had him, and the defenceman of the month in the south, Kyler Newman, came up to watch [Game 3], and he’s my size in terms of his height. We’ve got some impact guys with some youth who we’re hoping to have come in and push a little bit.”
Hunt’s praise also extended to some of the younger players who made an impact in the team’s lone playoff series with the Crusaders, beginning with a Fort McMurray native who managed to rank second in scoring for the Fort Saskatchewan Midget AAA Rangers this year in forward Kole Gable.
“He generates chances, and he does it the right way,” said Hunt. “He plays above the puck, he doesn’t cheat, and he has a good work ethic. He drew a penalty against [Sherwood Park’s] captain, who’s a pretty good skater, and that turned into a goal for us.”
But it’s not just the recent lineup insertions who have impressed, with Hunt noting that some of the season-long rookie stalwarts on this MOB roster have begun to develop veteran habits.
“Austin Holmes, to me, in the last month, has ramped his game right up,” Hunt noted. “He’s become, to me, a premier penalty killer in our league.”
“Jackson [McKinstry] has been a “jacks-of-all-trade” because he’s done everything for us. Centre, right wing, left wing, he’s been on the first line, the fourth line, he’s killed penalties, gone to the power play – and he’s our best net front guy because he’ll stand there and he’ll pay the price. That’s why he continues to get that opportunity.”
Those opportunities will not be handed out lightly when the Barons take to the ice on April 25th to begin the short four-game round robin portion of the tournament. With the potential for up to three teams at the WCC to end up at the RBC Cup this year, the odds are finally somewhat in the Barons’ favour.
But in front of a raucous home crowd, the Barons won’t be seeking to leave any of it to chance.
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by Tyler King