It was a rollercoaster of a weekend for the Oil Barons, who returned to the ice for the first time since mid-November. As part of the return to play, the MOB kicked off an 8 game series against the Spruce Grove Saints last Friday and Saturday at Centrefire Place, picking up 3 of a possible 4 points.
The Barons were sluggish out of the gate in Game 1, surrendering an early goal to Saints forward Jayden Davis. Liam Watkins would strike again for the Saints just minutes later, and Jacob Rochford would add to the Spruce lead midway through the period. The Barons were badly outshot in the opening frame, 15-2, and struggled to breakout with any consistency.
Fort McMurray came out with a renewed determination in the second, and began to dictate the pace of the game. Tristan Kimmen got them on the board with a highlight real short-handed breakaway goal. The goal gave the Barons some much-needed momentum, and they continued to drive play into the third.
Hunter Lamb scored a powerplay goal midway through a penalty-filled third period. With time winding down, The Oil Barons were able to complete the comeback and tie things up thanks to a goal by Nickolas De Beurs.
A fast-paced overtime that saw glorious opportunities for both teams solved nothing, so they headed to the shootout. The first shooter for both teams – Caiden Gault for the Saints and Tyler Wallace for the MOB – missed on their attempts. Saints captain Graham Gamache beat Oil Barons’ goalie Evan Fradette through the five-hole to get his team on the board. MOB forward Michael Hodge would answer with a spectacular backhand over Tyler Palmer of the Saints. Brett Pfoh and Aiden Hutchinsen missed on their attempts. Graeme Hampton put the Saints ahead next, and Nickolas De Beurs was unable to beat Palmer, securing the 4-3 shootout win for the Saints. Final shots were 31 apiece. The Barons were 1 for 6 on the powerplay, while killing off all 5 of their own penalties.
The Barons has a much better start to Game 2 on Saturday, but again allowed the first goal when Graham Gamache pounced on a loose puck in the high slot and roofed it over a sprawling Fradette. The goal took some wind out of the MOB’s sails, but they regained their momentum when Michael Hodge scored his first of the season on a brilliant backhand on the breakaway, similar to his shootout goal the night before. The teams would head to the first intermission tied at 1.
The second period was the Barons’ most dominant of the weekend. They got an early goal from Taige Harding, who ripped a wrist shot from the high slot beating Saints netminder Thomas Couture clean. Hodge would score his second of the game, a backhand shot that just trickled through Couture midway through the period. Ryder Matter would score his first career AJHL goal late in the frame, giving the MOB a comfy 4-1 lead heading into the third.
Penalty trouble almost cost Fort McMurray in the third period. Hodge started the parade to the box with a boarding call just 2:21 into the period. Jayden Davis would strike late in the powerplay for Spruce Grove, ending the Oil Barons’ perfect penalty kill. Tristan Kimmen would be next, driving Saints defenceman Lucas Watkins dangerously into the boards from behind. Watkins would need help from the team’s trainer getting off the ice. Max Struss and Caiden Gault would receive offsetting roughing minors in the ensuing scrum. MOB defenseman Brendan Wang would take a tripping call just moments later, giving Spruce Grove an extended 2 man advantage. Jake Aston made the most of the opportunity, scoring the Saints’ second straight powerplay goal. The MOB were able to kill off the second portion of the powerplay, but just as 5-on-5 play resumed, Jack Wolder would put the Barons short-handed again with a cross-check. Spruce Grove tied things up off the stick of Shane Lavelle, a third straight powerplay goal for the Saints. MOB head coach Gord Thibadeau called a timeout to try and settle his team down.
The Barons’ received some powerplay time of their own midway through the period, as Jed Magarrell and Graeme Hampton of the Saints would take penalties within 30 seconds of each other. Hunter Lamb capitalized on the 5 on 3, regaining the Baron’s lead after receiving a pass from Hodge in the slot and snapping the puck past Couture. The Saints would press late in the period, pulling their goalie with just over 2 minutes left. The MOB weathered the storm, and Michael Hodge and Hunter Lamb were able to breakout on a 2 on 1 with an empty net. With an unselfish play to give up the hat-trick, Hodge passed the puck to Lamb who slid it into the empty net. The Barons would hang on, securing a 6-4 win over the Saints. Final shots were 34 each. It was another penalty-filled affair, with the MOB going 1 for 3 on the man advantage, while surrendering 3 powerplay goals on 5 total penalties. The Barons’ top line carried play, with Michael Hodge putting up 5 points, and Hunter Lamb and Hassan Akl putting up 4 each.
Fort McMurray will take to the road this upcoming weekend, with their next two games in Spruce Grove this Friday and Saturday. Both games will start at 7 p.m., with the pregame show starting at 6:45 on Country 93.3.