The Fort McMurray Oil Barons showed once again this season that this team is for real. Trailing three times in the third period, the MOB continued to fight back against the Calgary Canucks before captain Brandon Ralph scored the overtime winner to send the MOB to their sixth straight victory with a 5-4 win.
The Barons had some extra motivation for Saturday night’s game against the Canucks. Not only had the Canucks handed the MOB their worst loss of the season before Christmas, but according to Barons captain Brandon Ralph, there was social media post by a Canucks player that irked the entire team.
“We had a little bit of fuel tonight,” said Ralph. “One of their players added a little bit of fuel to our fire tonight by putting something on social media about the fire over the summer. We were ready to go, we took this game personally; it was more than business for us tonight and we showed why we’re the better hockey team.”
The player Ralph was speaking about was former Oil Barons defenceman Mark Drohan saying he posted a Snapchat saying he was going to “light the place up” with a fire emoji and the words “pun intended” as well as the Fort McMurray location filter.
“We don’t take lightly to that, it was fuel” Ralph added.
The Oil Barons (30-10-1) came out flying to start the game scoring on their first shot, 21 seconds in. Shane Fraser wired a Ralph pass into the top right corner over the glove hand of Logan Drackett.
The MOB would hold the lead until mid-way through the second period when Josh Gagne and Ben Assad scored back to back powerplay goals 3:29 apart to put the Canucks (26-13-3) out in front 2-1.
The third period would provide MOB fans at the Casman Centre with every emotion possible. Five goals were scored in a back and forth period that would end tied 4-4 and head to overtime.
Liam Izyk tied the game 2:18 in at 2-2 with his first goal in 19 games. Toby Shattler spotted the rookie out front of the Canuck goal and Izyk slipped a shot through the legs of Drackett.
“Hard work usually gets rewarded and I thought that line was really good for us, they kept it very simple. They went after and played the body and it was good to see them get rewarded,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca.
Dylan Williamson would restore the Canucks lead at 7:18 as a knuckle puck fell to him at the top of the crease and he batted it past Eric Szudor.
JC Thivierge would tie the game again 1:20 later when he fired a sharp angled shot under the arm of Drackett for his third goal in two games and extended his point streak to six.
The Canucks showed no quit as the game opened up and Matthew Painchaud beat Szudor up high on a three on two rush to restore a 4-3 lead for the visitors.
That was until Shane Fraser scored his second goal of the game off a feed from Thivierge at 11:47 of the period. Fraser’s backhand squeaked through the legs of Drackett and just trickled over the goal line. The goal was Fraser’s 10th of the year and fifth in his last six games.
“We were down three times in that third period and we were never worried,” said Fraser. “We always knew we had a chance to get back in the game.”
In the overtime period a frantic pace provided chances at both ends of the rink before play was halted for a penalty on Taner Miller for interference. The penalty was just Miller’s third of the year and put the Canucks on the powerplay with 2:37 left.
The Canucks fired shot after shot and the Barons laid out sacrificing their bodies with Szudor making several huge stops to keep the game tied.
“Szudor was incredible, made three or four back-to-back saves when I was on the ice, ” said Ralph. “We left him alone and he stood tall for us. We’re going to block shots for him and he’s going to make big saves for us.”
With Miller back on the ice after a massive penalty kill, Will Conley picked up the puck in his own zone and raced down the left wing. Conley curled back and spotted Ralph on the far side. A perfect pass to Ralph and he one timed his team leading 17th goal into the net with 11 seconds left on the clock to send the Casman Centre into a frenzy.
“When you believe you can accomplish something, chances are you can and we did that on the bench. At no point did we sense there was any panic. We told our players that everyone must stay on the same page and we have to stick to our system,” said Keca.
Ralph’s goal was his fourth game winner of the year and second in overtime.
“There are certain individuals who will always leave a lasting impression and he’s one of them,” said Keca after the game.
Keca then shared a story about Ralph of when he was injured just before Christmas and being unable to contribute on the ice, he helped clean the dressing room and grabbed a mop and mopped the floor.
“Brandon Ralph is a 20 year old guy who played in the Western Hockey League, that’s won a Memorial Cup and believe me, he would do anything to help out the team. Those are the types of things that rub off on your players.
“Our young guys will be the leaders that they had when they were younger. Our rookies look now and see that nothing is beneath Brandon Ralph for him to do, that’s going to rub off. They’re going to be so much better off as players and individuals down the road to have the opportunity to be mentored by somebody like Ralph.”
The Barons became the second team to reach 30 wins on the year and kept pace with the Whitecourt Wolverines for first place in the North Division. The MOB still sit one point back but do have two games in hand.
“It was big for us, we knew we had a shot at it,” said Fraser when asked about winning all four games during the teams homestand. “We just needed to play our best and I thought we played fairly well all throughout. We didn’t have our best game against the Mustangs but we came back with another good performance tonight and hopefully we can keep it going on our three game road trip next weekend.”
The Barons will head south next weekend to Canmore Friday before taking on Okotoks Saturday and Olds on Sunday.