It has been 20 years since the greatest team in Fort McMurray Oil Barons history took to the ice. 20 years since the MOB were National Champions for the lone time in franchise history.
On Friday night at the Casman Centre, the Oil Barons honoured that team in a pre-game ceremony, remembering the past and the accomplishments that they had.
After the ceremony, the current Oil Barons took on the Grande Prairie Storm in their final game of the regular season and after jumping out to an early lead, cruised to a 3-1 victory.
“I thought we played well and I thought we came out with a lot of energy. Obviously a big evening and a huge crowd was a part of that but we were really jumping early and we took what they were giving us,” said MOB Head Coach Gord Thibodeau as the MOB finished the year 20-34-4 with 44 points.
With the win, the MOB jumped over the Storm into 6th place in the North Division for the time being. The Storm still have three games left on their schedule and with a win will move one point ahead of the MOB and back into 6th place. An overtime loss will see the MOB remain in 6th place as they hold the tie-breaker.
The first period saw a parade to the penalty box and the MOB took advantage on their first powerplay when Riley Bodnarchuk teed up Konrad Belcourt who blasted his 7th of the year past Lars Kaliel.
The Oil Barons took a 2-0 lead at 10:58 of the first period when Luke Harvie made a strong move off the half wall and fended of a Storm defender before ripping a backhand into the top right corner.
“He was channeling his inner Colin Murphy on the 20th anniversary and took a little Scottie Upshall and a little Colin Murphy and showed some phenomenal hands there,” said Thibodeau with laugh as Harvie wowed the crowd for just his 2nd goal of the season. “We keep telling Luke to shoot the puck more and we want him shooting more and getting the puck to the net and he certainly got rewarded there.”
The MOB kept coming and took a commanding 3-0 lead when Michael Hodge picked off a pass in the Storm zone and lifted a backhand into the top shelf for his team leading 30th goal and 57th point. Hodge, and his linemates Hunter Lamb and Brendan Stafford as well as Harvie all suited up in all 58 games this season for the MOB.
The Storm outshot the MOB 33-26 in the game but were only able to beat MOB goalie Evan Fradette once when Brett Meerman deked around him on a breakaway late in the second period. Fradette shut the door the rest of the way to preserve the win.
The MOB have three potential first round opponents and will wait and see where they finish as the week plays out. The MOB will either face the Spruce Grove Saints, Whitecourt Wolverines or Bonnyville Pontiacs in the first round.
“We told the players we don’t focus on the opposition until we know who we’re getting and there are things that we need to work on as a group to make sure that we’re going to be ready, ” said Thibodeau. “We know we have an uphill climb and will have to beat some very good teams to keep playing and we understand what’s ahead of us but we’re going to strap on our boots and start climbing.”
The AJHL playoffs are set to begin on Sunday March 1st with Game 2 on Monday March 2nd. The MOB will host games 3 and 4 at the Casman Centre on Wednesday March 4th and Thursday March 5th.