It may have only been the 16th game of the season but Sunday afternoon’s game between the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Spruce Grove Saints had the feel of a late season contest for playoff positioning.
The MOB (13-3-0) and Saints (11-3-2) fought until the final buzzer with the Oil Barons coming out on top 1-0.
A late flurry of chances by the Saints was foiled by a highlight reel stop by Forbes Ploszaj in the dying seconds as the veteran made 25 saves for his first shutout of the year and improved to 7-0-0.
Neither team was able to generate much offence in the first period with the Barons outshooting the Saints 8-6 through 20 minutes.
However, in the second the pace ramped up with both teams vying for the game’s first goal.
“The second period today we were dominate and had seven or eight scoring chances and we proved that if we get there on the forecheck we’re able to make the other team cough the puck up and I thought that we played extremely well,” said Head Coach Tom Keca.
Nicholas Leeseberg broke free down the left wing and fired a shot on Nolan Kent, the rookie netminder snagged it with the glove hand keeping the game scoreless.
“He’s still tip toeing through the league and trying to figure out how he fits in and credit to him we’ve played him at centre on the wing, he never complains and always wants to get better,” said Keca of Leeseberg who hails from Parker, Colorado. “He’s the type of player that we want to build around, bigger, stronger, faster, those are the types of guys you need in the heat of the battle.”
The MOB fired 18 shots Kent’s way in the middle frame and finally broke through 6:39 in when Will Conley hopped on a Davis Sheldon rebound and chipped home the game’s lone goal.
The goal was Conley’s third in four games and fifth of the year.
“He can beat you in so many different aspects, Will’s big and strong and he can get to those areas,” said Keca of Conley. “That was a classic garbage goal where we got the faceoff, we got a shot in and there was a rebound there.”
The Oil Barons would get an early powerplay in the third to try and double their lead but Brandon Ralph went off for a hook and Ryan Cox for a slash moments later, giving the Saints a four on three advantage.
Jack Hamly laid out, blocking an Ian Mitchell blast and Kyler Newman and the rest of the defence was again more than willing to sacrifice the body to get in the shooting lanes to kill off all five Saints powerplays in the game.
Nolan Kent was stellar in the Saints goal, stopping 37 of 38 shots in a losing effort.
The MOB return home for three games in four days this week after six straight on the road. They will take on Brooks on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Casman Centre before hosting Okotoks on Friday and the Saints Sunday afternoon.
“We said at the start of October that the next nine games were going to tell us what kind of team we had and so far out of the six games we’re 5-1 so I’m very excited for our group here,” said Keca.