Another hockey season is already upon us and for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, 40 plus hopefuls donned the blue and gold at this past weekends training camp hoping to crack the opening night roster.
The MOB are coming off a second straight 40 win season but despite racking up 86 wins in the last two years, the club feels they have under performed when the games count the most – the playoffs.
“For us as an organization we obviously want to build on the momentum that we’ve tried to create the last two years. We’ve had very successful regular seasons but I think as a coaching staff the biggest question we asked ourselves was why are we having success in the regular season and maybe not as much in the post-season that we’d like?” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca who saw his team lose in Game 7 of the second round to the Whitecourt Wolverines in 2017-18.
The Oil Barons will have a much different looking team this season. Gone are three year veterans Shane Fraser, Will Conley and Eric Szudor as well as high scoring defencemen Curtis Roach and JC Thivierge who patrolled the blueline the past two seasons.
The MOB will have a much different looking forward group with Keca noting the team will have to score by committee because “you can’t just replace a 48 goal scorer like Conley.”
“The type of player that we’re recruiting changed this summer, I think we’re going to change the way that we play as a hockey team…we’re going to play a little bit of a more upbeat style,” said Keca who returns for a fourth year as the team’s Head Coach.
Two players who are looking to have bounce back seasons are Liam Izyk and Jarred White. Both players missed extended periods last season due to injury. Izyk pieced together a nice year when healthy recording 26 points in 32 games while White had a breakout playoff scoring five goals and eight points in ten games. Both players will be leaders on the club as they enter their third seasons in the AJHL.
Another player the MOB will lean on for scoring is 20 year old Reed Morison who returns for a second season with the MOB. Morison finished second on the team in scoring last year with 26 goals and 58 points in 58 games. He then led the team in playoff scoring with seven goals and ten points in ten games.
The MOB did receive a big boost upfront when WHL veteran and Fort McMurrayite Kole Gable agreed to join the club for his final junior season. Gable is coming off a WHL Championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup with the Swift Current Broncos last season and will not only add a scoring punch but a wealth of experience for the younger players.
“He’s a great kid, really good set of boots on him and he’s going to provide us leadership both on and off the ice that will hopefully benefit all of our players,” said Keca of Gable who scored 39 points in 166 career WHL games split between the Broncos and Edmonton Oil Kings.
The MOB blueline will be anchored by fourth year veteran Taner Miller who has a chance to break the all-time games played record for an Oil Baron this season. Miller is coming off a career high nine goals and 41 points last season.
Also returning on the backend are Gunner Kinniburgh, Ryan Conroy and Lucas Yovetich. The Barons also added B.C. native Sean McCloskey from the Chilliwack Chiefs this off-season and the 18 year old has looked good in camp so far.
In goal, Rookie of the Year finalist Chris Curr looks to take over the starter’s role left behind by Eric Szudor. Curr was lights out last season with a 16-5-2 record and a sparkling 2.39 GAA and .922 save percentage.
Lots of positions are available to be won as the MOB begin exhibition play Wednesday in Camrose with games against Whitecourt, Drumheller and the Kodiaks.
The Barons will play two home exhibition games against Lloydminster on September 7th and 8th at the Casman Centre with the home opener Friday September 14th against Grande Prairie.