After losing in regulation for the first time in 20 games Friday night, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons looked to get back in the win column Saturday in a rematch against the lowly Lloydminster Bobcats.
The MOB (42-11-3) would put forth another strong effort and were led by their captain Brandon Ralph who netted a hat-trick in a 5-1 win.
“I thought today we buzzed around the puck really good, we were relentless. I thought that we again threw a lot of traffic in front,” said MOB head coach Tom Keca on the play of his team. “These are the types of efforts where you sort of forget about last night was a good effort, today we warned our guys and they responded which was great.”
After surrendering the first goal of the game Friday, it would be the MOB opening the scoring Saturday night at the Centennial Civic Centre. An aggressive forecheck by Jarred White and Liam Izyk created a turnover inside the Bobcat line. The puck squirted out to Nicholas Leeseberg who took two strides before firing a wrist shot past Austin McGrath for his 8th goal of the year.
The lead was short lived as the Bobcats (15-40-3) roared back 1:34 later. Matthew Jones’ shot was bobbled by Josh Williams and Wilson Northey pounced on the rebound and chipped a shot in behind the MOB goaltender to tie the game 1-1.
Williams was making his first start since January 13th after missing time with a knee injury. The 19 year old made 14 saves in his return and remains undefeated in his AJHL career at 20-0-0.
The MOB would regain the lead before the period was out. While on a powerplay, Curtis Roach got the puck to Jack Hamly whose shot was stopped by McGrath. The rebound ended up right on the stick of Ralph who backhanded his team leading 26th goal into the net.
The Barons added to their lead in the second period off an offensive zone face-off. Shane Fraser won the draw to Ralph who took the puck to the side of the net before sliding a pass out front to Matteo Aiello. The 18 year old made no mistake in burying his 8th goal of the year to put the MOB up 3-1.
Another late penalty by the Bobcats would prove costly as Ralph used his big body in front of the goal to out muscle the Bobcat defence to a loose puck and chipped in his second goal of the game.
Ralph completed his hat-trick in the third period with just nine seconds left off another offensive zone face-off win. Ryan Cox won the draw straight back to Taner Miller. Ralph headed to the front of the goal as Miller sent a shot in, the captain deflected the shot through the legs of McGrath and in for his 28th of the year. Ralph now has six multi goal games this season after recording his first career AJHL hat-trick. The captain did have a hat-trick earlier in the season in an exhibition game against the Czech Republic U19 select team in a 5-3 MOB win in December.
“If you’re going to be a competitor you have to play hard in practice and then you have to have make sure that transfers into a game. He’s a guy that doesn’t take a practice off or doesn’t take a competition off and that’s someone you want to rub off on your younger players,” said Keca on what Brandon Ralph brings everyday to the rink.
The MOB outshot the Bobcats heavily for a second straight net finishing with 38 shots to the Bobcats 15.
“We did a good job of shot blocking, we tried to emphasize to our players that we know that if our goaltenders can see that first puck they’re probably going to stop it and then we want to clear rebounds so we tried to limit the amount of second and third opportunities,” said Keca.
Next up for the MOB is a Sunday afternoon date with the Bonnyville Pontiacs. The Pontiacs lead the season series 3-2. You can listen to the game on Country 93.3 beginning with the pre-game show at 1:45 p.m.
“We’re going to play physical tomorrow,” said Keca on the upcoming game. “We’re going to play extremely physical tomorrow, that’s all I’m going to say.”
Tom Keca post-game show.