It’s game on for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons as the Alberta Junior Hockey League kicks off the regular season Friday.
“We’re excited to get going, there’s a lot of nerves in the room but we’ve had a good week of practice and hopefully they’re ready to go come game time,” said MOB Head Coach Gord Thibodeau.
Teams have been playing co-hort exhibition games for the past month but once the provincial government implemented new guidelines which allowed an expanded cohort, the league was able to piece together a schedule that allowed teams to begin playing a season.
The MOB played eight exhibition games and finished with a 4-3-1 record in games against Bonnyville and Grande Prairie. Their two games last weekend against the Spruce Grove Saints were cancelled due to inclement weather.
“I thought we played pretty consistent (in our games). I loved our goaltending, I thought our defense was pretty good, offensively we still have a ways to go, we still have some guys getting their feet wet at this level and we need to create a bit more offence but overall for this point in the development part I’m pleased with what we saw,” said Thibodeau.
Three players who Thibodeau didn’t see in game action are Nick McCarry, Billy Sowa and Brendan Kuny who all joined the club in the past two weeks. All three players are awaiting the start of the Western Hockey League season and have been given the opportunity to play for the MOB before they head off to training camp in late December.
“It’s always difficult in this situation to bring in guys who you know are going to be leaving but we made a decision as an organization that we were going to help the kids that we had property to,” said Thibodeau on adding the three players to his roster. “All those three guys we have their (CJHL) rights and we wanted to make sure that they had a chance to develop just like the other guys we have here.”
McCarry may be a familiar name to MOB fans as he played 30 games for the club in the 2018-19 season as a 17 year old before being called up to the WHL by the Medicine Hat Tigers to finish the year. McCarry had 13 goals and 23 points in 58 games last season with the Tigers.
Sowa and Kuny came to the MOB through trades this off-season. Sowa, an 18 year old defenceman split time last season between the Sherwood Park Crusaders and the Swift Current Broncos. Kuny spent most of last season with the Drayton Valley Thunder but also played 11 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“McCarry is a goal scorer, he’s a guy who has great speed who can shoot the puck, Sowa has some offensive ability and is a very solid dman and Kuny has some size and real a good shot,” said Thibodeau.
The three players will slot in and give the MOB some added depth to start the year. The Barons have once again been led offensively by Michael Hodge (7 goals & 10 points) and Hunter Lamb (2 goals & 8 points) in the eight exhibition games.
One of the biggest battles so far has been in the crease with returning goalies Evan Fradette and Cam Beson being challenged by new comer Joshua Nadler. Ultimately Thibodeau decided to go with the two 19 year olds in Fradette and Nadler but the decision was not an easy one.
“We really liked what Nadler showed as a rookie and Fredette has been outstanding through the exhibition and development season and it’s nice, Freddy is getting pushed and he’s responding the way we wanted him to and I think we have two guys there who can carry the load when given the chance.”
The MOB open the season at home at the newly named Centerfire Place Friday and Saturday as they welcome the Drayton Valley Thunder to town. You can listen to all the action on Country 93.3 beginning with the pre-game show at 7:15 p.m.