The Fort McMurray Oil Barons season came to an end Monday night at the Casman Centre as they were unable to stave off elimination for a third straight game.
After going down 3-0 in their first round series with the Whitecourt Wolverines, the MOB turned things around and won back to back games to force a Game 6 back at home. However, the Wolverines knew they needed to be better and did not want to head back home for a deciding seventh game and they were able to jump on the MOB early and grinded out a 4-1 win to win the series 4 games to 2.
“It’s been an amazing seven week journey and they gave everything they could but it looked like we were out of gas tonight and you could tell early in that first period,” said MOB Head Coach Gord Thibodeau.
The Wolverines got a pair of goals from Ethan Leyer in the opening eight minutes of the first period to put the MOB on their heels. They would add to their lead on a great passing play that was finished off by Ryan Wallz early in the second period.
The Oil Barons got a bounce at the 12:32 mark of the middle frame when Michael Hodge’s centering pass hit a Wolverine stick and deflected past Vincent Duplessis. But that would be the only thing that beat Duplessis on the night as the Wolverines netminder stoned the MOB time and time again, making 36 saves in the win. Braydon Labant sealed the win with an empty net goal in the third period.
“They should be proud (that they never quit) and part of restoring the pride we want back in the organization is laying those foundation blocks and that’s definitely a foundation block them not quitting and scrapping and getting to Game 6,” said a proud Thibodeau of what his team accomplished in the series.
With the season now finished for the MOB after a 6th place finish and a 20-34-4 regular season record, the coaching staff is now looking ahead to next season and what changes will be made to get the team back to where they want to be – a contender.
“There’s definitely some promise and potential but the mix of the team has to change. We have to get quicker, we have to get more skilled and more in your face hockey, that’s the style we want to play here. We have some bodies that are capable of playing that type of hockey and others that maybe aren’t a fit to play that style of game,” said Thibodeau who guided the team to a 5-7-2 record down the stretch after taking over from Bob Beatty on January 16th. “We really have to get after it to make sure that we build the type of team that can sustain in a long playoff round.”
The coaching staff has many tough decisions surrounding the roster with every player eligible to return as the MOB have no players who will age out this season. They do have nine 2000 born players on their roster who will become the 20 year old group next season and CJHL teams are only allowed to carry six 20 year olds on their roster.
“I’m excited, I really like the direction we’re heading in. You have to remember that whatever the number of players we have returning whether it’s 8, 12 or 15 those decisions get made through the summer and some of those aren’t hockey related they’re card related or age related so we’ll make those decisions but the core group coming back I feel really good about,” said Thibodeau.
“Our leadership group is extremely strong and that’s the foundation of building a champion and we have to do our work and I have to do my work and I have be a better coach next year to make sure that that growth continues but I do feel very positive of the direction we’re headed and I want to get there sooner rather than later.”
MOB Head Coach Gord Thibodeau on the Country 93.3 post-game show.