With a chance to close out their first round series Monday night in Grande Prairie, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons put forth a dominate effort led by Fort McMurrayite Kole Gable who scored his first career AJHL hat-trick en route to a convincing 5-1 win in Game 4.
After dropping Game 1 at home, the Oil Barons responded with three straight wins to take the series three games-to-one and move on to the second round.
With their season on the line, the Storm came out hard and opened the scoring 7:28 into the first period when Zach Webb found Vincent Milot-Ouellet in front of the MOB goal. Milot-Ouellet hammered a shot past Curr to give the Storm the lead through one period.
The Oil Barons took over the game in the second and it started with three glorious chances early on while shorthanded. Reed Morison hit the cross bar and then Jarred White and Jaedon Leslie missed on back to back two-on-one rushes.
The MOB kept coming and broke through at 4:09 when Gable tipped in a Taner Miller point shot to tie the game 1-1.
Gable would strike a second time after a great forecheck from Tyler Maser who knocked the puck to Morison who was able to tip it over to Gable. The Fort McMurrayite out waited Kaedon Lane before sweeping the puck into the open net as he walked around his out-stretched pad.
The Barons received some early insurance when Gable set up Brendan Stafford at the side of the Storm goal 59 seconds into the third period to take a 3-1 lead.
After the earlier misses shorthanded, Leslie buried his next opportunity after a nice dish by White to set him up on the two-on-one to give the MOB a 4-1 advantage 6:38 into the period.
“Obviously it’s a defend first mentality that you have to have (while shorthanded) and if you can generate a bit of offence that’s great and I thought our players did an outstanding job not only tonight but throughout the entire series. That’s a potent top six unit that they have over there and to keep those guys to one goal in specialty teams was pretty big,” said MOB Head Coach Tom Keca as the Oil Barons killed off 12 of 13 Storm powerplays in the series.
The MOB put the game away when Gable was able to complete his hat-trick with another deflection goal in the slot as he tipped home a Ryan Conroy point shot. Gable led all scorers in the series with four goals and seven points in four games.
“I thought that we battled hard in the third period. We didn’t allow them to get too much zone time and then we killed some penalties but all in all it was a good effort for us,” said Keca on the effort level. “That last win is always the hardest one to get so for us to be able to finish the series in Grande Prairie, speaks volumes for the character we have in the dressing room.”
For a second straight night Chris Curr was outstanding in goal for the MOB, making a number of big stops especially early in the game. Curr made 26 saves in the win and has now won nine of his last ten starts.
“I thought Chris Curr was phenomenal, he just made timely saves. He’s such a calm, cool collected player and he just came up with some big saves at big times for us,” said Keca.
The Oil Barons head to the second round of the AJHL playoffs for a third straight season and will meet the North Division leading Sherwood Park Crusaders. The Oil Barons went 2-1-3 against the Crusaders this season and will open the North Division semi-final Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena.
“They’re a big team, they’ve got some big guys on the backend, they have two gigantic goaltenders. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, we’re going to have to play very sound structurally, we’re going to have to make sure everyone is invested and everyone does their job,” said Keca on what to expect from the Crusaders who received a first round bye and haven’t played since March 2nd.
The other North Division series will see the second seeded Bonnyville Pontiacs take on the third place Spruce Grove Saints.
“The feeling only gets better as you continue through the playoffs but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that it only gets harder from here.”
MOB Head Coach Tom Keca on the Country 93.3 post-game show.