Houston Was Ready & Willing, Beat OKC 2-1 In SO

Although the Oklahoma City Barons earned at least a point, their first game in Houston this weekend didn’t turn out as they’d hoped it would. The Aeros were ready, willing, and able to lambast Yann Danis with 13 first period shots en route to a sturdy win by Houston over OKC in a shootout.

Nick Palmieri shimmied his way through Barons forwards and defenders and eventually past Yann Danis top shelf. Justin Schultz, in a rare non-highlight reel moment, looked silly trying to stop Palmieri, and it was about as nice as a minor league “hard working” goal as you’ll find. In the first five minutes, the Aeros would take a 1-0 lead. But six minutes later, Justin Schultz would even the score. In typical Schultz form, he eased the puck just across the right face-off dot, where he’d then laser a shot around Aero’s goaltender Matt Hackett. The Barons and Aeros were tied at the end of one, and would stay that way until a victor was crowned in the shootout.

The second and third periods were heavy on the goaltenders. Yann would stop 16 shots for Oklahoma City, Hackett would stop 15 for the Aeros. As the dual wore on it was apparent that both netminders were hitting a bit of a stride. But it was the Barons who looked the most unenthusiastic by it all, and simply were out hustled by the Aeros.

In the shootout, Dan Byers and Toni Rajala (off a dandy swoop move) would notch goals for OKC, but Kris Foucault that sealed the deal on the Aeros side. The Houston Aeros would defeat the Oklahoma City Barons, 2-1 in a shootout. The Barons were lucky to even get two.

Random Thoughts

There was a 2nd period injury to recent callup Dan Ringwald that caused some disturbance in the defensive pairings. But that’s not entirely to blame for their wonky defensive efforts. The core seemed disturbed from the get-go, including a rare bad defensive game for Justin Schultz. In all, the Barons were just low on compete level, and that’s always a bad thing. Not challenging the heart of the team, but am challenging the preparedness mentally. Just ugly all around despite there being one regulation goal scored a piece.

Toni Rajala has a fantastic shootout move. This is why Rajala is so well liked by coaches in Oklahoma City – his creativity. He has the potential to be a less naturally gifted Omark in this regard. Is his ceiling as high as Linus, not right now. But he certainly has wowed enough people of late (including me) to believe in what he’s selling.

The Aeros and Barons both went 0/4 on the power play. Both teams seemed slightly confused with an extra skater on the ice. That’s not good for either squad. Coach Nelson mentioned it in the post game comments, but the Barons are now scoreless on the PP in three straight games. With the “NHL LINE” how is this even possible? Simply put, it shouldn’t even be an issue, but it is. 0/12 but still earning points in the standings is nothing short of odd. For as often as this team can drop the offensive hammer, that same offensive threat can go into hiding. I fully expect a different team tonight in Houston. They don’t stay down long. But can they consistently get better on the PP instead of running hot, then falling to pieces?

Barons Visit Soaring Aeros “One Thing Leads To Another”

The Fixx. That is all.

New Wave-ish band, The Fixx, had this great song about one step leading to another. You may have heard it. VH1 labelled it one of the best tracks of the 80’s, and its hard to disagree with the thought process behind it. The band, from London, had this really great electronic sound coupled with great guitar licks. Ten albums (including one last year) could never quite live up to the hype of their most successful single aptly named, “One Thing Leads To Another” from the album Reach The Beach.

For The Fixx, it was a raucous couple of years in the early 80’s as they tried to balance New Wave respectability and mainstream pop. The keyboards featured heavily on almost all their albums, was at it’s most quirky on “One Thing”. And it’s a song that holds up as a no-doubt-it’s-from-the-80’s example of the early decades sound.

This track in particular seems to be directed at political rigmarole. Leadership take cover! Lies and deceit, hatred and anger, self absorption and oppressive – it’s heavy subject material.

I’ll roll this analogy into hockey form. The Barons were touted as being high and mighty a bit prematurely. They wore this “impression that you sell,” that “passes in and out like a scent”. And indeed one thing led to another. But in the same vein, it’s easy to hate the top dog. It’s easy to hurl stones at the king from his lofty throne. Okay, that’s way too big of a stretch. But I like The Fixx, and I like the thought that one thing leads to another. You win three games, you win one more, and one more, and one thing leads to another. Here’s to that “one thing” leading to “another one thing” as long as they both are wins.

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Barons Call On The Services Of Eric Hunter (via Stockton)

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

Another day, another reassignment for a player with the Stockton Thunder. Yesterday we saw the switcheroo of Dan Ringwald for Teigan Zahn, with the former heading to play with the Barons. Today we get an AHL-contracted, but ECHL loaned, return of centerman Eric Hunter. Hunter, like the other recent recalls offensively in Cornet and Rajala, is having a really good ECHL season. So much so, that it’s not entirely too far of a stretch that in a non-lockout season, this guy is playing in Oklahoma City. A semi-late placement in Stockton following camp, Hunter can do some nice things.

In the absence of Rajala and Cornet, Gabriel Levesque and Yannick Riendeau have taken over the wing positions to Hunter’s centering line. They haven’t missed a beat. In their first game as a threesome they scored a combined seven points in that game.

If you’re curious about the injury situations for the Barons, and why this call-up was necessary, here’s the breakdown.

Josh Green – out one more series with rib injury
Ryan Martindale – out with knee injury
Tanner House – concussion
Tyler Pitlick – concussion
Antti Tyrvainen – recovering from arm surgery

That’s two useful centermen (House and Martindale), and one sometimes centerman (Green) out with injury. You get a smidge banged up on the road, lose a player, and suddenly you’re in need of a replacement. Hence comes the calling of Eric Hunter.

Hunter’s points this season in Stockton are 4-8-12 in 16 games. And always remember, this guy is in his second year as a pro. An older pro, but one that has some really good play making skills. Might we see the return of a Cornet-Hunter-Rajala line? Perhaps.

When Cornet and Rajala were upped to Oklahoma City, Eric Hunter had this to say:

“This is just part of the game. In Lake Erie there was a revolving door of guys coming in and out, and that’s the nature of pro hockey, ” Hunter said. “It’s no secret; two leading scorers is a big loss for us. But the two guys who are coming in to join the line are going to be great. We’re rolling right now, and confidence is high.”

The Official Release via OKC Barons:

Hunter, 26, signed an AHL contract with the Barons on November 6, but has been playing with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. With Stockton, Hunter has 12 points (4-8-12) in 16 games played and has a team best +/- rating of +11. Last season, the 6-1, 194-pounder from Winnipeg, Manitoba played in 75 games with the Lake Erie Monsters and scored 16 points (6-10-16).

Prior to turning pro, Hunter played four seasons at the University of Alberta. In 105 games with the Golden Bears, he scored 98 points (40-58-98). Prior to attending the University of Alberta, he played five seasons with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. He scored 233 points (111-122-233) in 323 games played with the Cougars. Hunter’s 111 goals and 233 points are Cougars’ franchise records in those categories.

He has the unique distinction of being drafted twice. He was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 8th round (229th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and in the 6th round (174th overall) by the New York Rangers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Hunter will join the Barons in Houston in advance of their set of games this Thursday and Friday against the Aeros.

Scouting The Enemy – Charlie Coyle, Houston Aeros

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

Charlie Coyle, the little engine that could, isn’t having such a little start to his rookie pro season in Houston. A guy who was drafted high, traded for integral pieces, and then placed on a very young squad where he’d spend his first season on the payroll not fighting for a chance in the big leagues (thanks lockout) – not ideal. But Coyle has taken it in stride. A full year of tier III junior play, one and a half decent seasons at Boston U, and then 40 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs (including playoff games) of the QJMHL – all before finally landing professionally with the baby Wild, or as they are called in these parts, the Houston Aeros. His bouncing about hasn’t slowed his prospecty goodness.

Coyle’s prospect status has been given the here and there treatment as well. In 2011, with Minnesota at the NHL Entry Draft host, the Wild made a play that featured Coyle. Gone Puck Wild gives us a breakdown of that trade:

The Minnesota Wild hosted the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and they made quite a splash during the first day when they announced they had pulled off a trade that would see them acquire forward Charlie Coyle from the San Jose Sharks. The announcement sent the crowd into a frenzy as stated by fellow Gone Puck Wild writer Scott Drain who was at the draft. In the words of Drain, “Coyle is a stud” and Wild fans have to be ecstatic about having the youngster apart of the organization, enforcing the fact that the Wild won the trade even if it may take a year or two to prove.

The deal also saw the Wild acquire Devin Setoguchi and a first round draft pick in the ’11 draft and at the time the deal was all about Setoguchi for Brent Burns. But Coyle was the key factor in the trade that made Wild GM Chuck Fletcher part ways with Burns, a highly sought after defenceman.

It is yet to be determined if the loss of Brent Burns is in any way equivalent to what the Wild snatched in return, including Charlie Coyle. However, his play through eighteen games in Houston has been eye brow raising as well as promising.

His coach in Houston, John Torchetti, has sung his praises from as early as camp. And he continues to be impressed. He tells the Star Tribune:

“He’s going to make an impact on the Wild for two reasons: He’s no-maintenance, high-character and he is so good, so willing defensively,” Torchetti said

“But Torchetti doesn’t think you can play in today’s NHL without the defensive component, and Coyle “has been our most consistent, complete forward night in and night out since the start of the year.”

There are some Wild fans who like to compare him to a Wendel Clark or a Cam Neely, but in actuality that’s the type of player we all compare two-way guys to. Or at least I do. And I think it does Coyle a disservice to pigeon hole him a bit because he’s a gifted offensive player that can play defense. And at 20 years old, it’s so hard to predict this type of players NHL future, even though he’s clearly a well above the norm AHL player.

I’ve seen him play a few times this season. It seemed he’d get buried behind Mikael Granlund in the lineup, but with the Finn out, Coyle has found some leg room. His season total of 7 goals and 4 assists in 18 games isn’t all that bad. It’s also worth noting that he’s at a 0 on the +/- rating amongst a very heavy defensive role as a forward. I like that.

I also like that he’s willing to get dirty. His best moments seemingly come directly in front of the net. He’ll stand his ground, get bumped and heaved around, but weather the storm. He’s a great leader in terms of how he plays a sturdy game on the ice. This makes for a dangerous opponent.

Hockey’s Future had similar glowing reviews:

Charlie Coyle does not have the same ability to distribute as Granlund does (few do) but his size and instinct for making plays around the net have him looking like a good offensive option as a pro. Coyle’s intensity on the ice is an area for him to focus on throughout the year. He is already looking effective in the AHL at making space for himself.

He’s the type of player that is hard to groom, hard to draft, and sometimes hard to understand. I’ve attempted to compare him to the Barons, Teemu Hartikainen, but Coyle might be a step ahead of the “Teemu Curve” in terms of his defensive abilities.

Coyle will, in the end, benefit from the lockout season. He’ll give the Wild something to look forward to outside of their current NHL guys. And perhaps he fits a need within the Wild far beyond their original understanding. And that only makes things better.

What’s In The Water In Stockton? Barons Swap Zahn For Ringwald

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

What’s with players who are sent to Stockton? All I can say is that there must be something in the water, because as soon as Oklahoma City assigns players to the California ECHL destination they end up on top. Philippe Cornet, Toni Rajala, Teigan Zahn and now Dan Ringwald. After being sent to Stockton on November 14th, Dan Ringwald suddenly burst forth with some really strong offensive play. Five games, four points, and a return to the things that we liked about Dan for OKC last season.

So the need for sturdiness has come and temporarily gone, and now the Barons are looking to be speedy. Zahn, a healthy scratch for several games of late, will head to Stockton where he did a six game tour of duty and scored two goals and three assists. Really, is it the sunshine? The climate? The air travel? Regardless, the Stockton litmus test has worked. The ECHL is the new AHL, and for the Oilers that line of command is firing on all cylinders.

Official Release:

The Oklahoma City Barons completed two transactions with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. The Barons loaned defenseman Teigan Zahn to Stockton, while Dan Ringwald was recalled by the Barons, General Manager Bill Scott announced today.

Zahn, a 6-2, 221-pounder from Regina, Sask. has split time this season between the Barons and Stockton. With Oklahoma City, he has registered one assist in five game. With Stockton, he has appeared in six games and registered five points (2-3-5). Zahn skated last season with the University of Calgary, scoring 15 points (3-12-15) in 27 games with the Dinos.

Ringwald, a 6-2, 190-pounder from Oakville, Ontario has played in 11 games between the two teams, scoring five points (2-3-5). Ringwald has appeared in 110 games as a pro, scoring 39 points (4-35-39) and serving 44 penalty minutes.

Monday Mumble: Angry Mailbag Of Edmonton Hate

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that people are reading this site, my words, and my attempt at digital scrivening. I know, I know, what a terribly self absorbed comment to make given the great amount of interaction that you, the fine readers of TtF, have given in such a short time to an Oklahoma-based blog NOT about college football or Jesus (two things I love). And I’m eternally grateful that people read, enjoy, share, interact, and sing-along to a site that I’d write whether no one read or not. But something happened this week that hasn’t happened all season. I got hate mail. I feel I’ve arrived as a hockey writer.

Well, the hate mail wasn’t necessary sent my way, so I’ll slow my roll on the having arrived comment. Yes, it hit my inbox, but it wasn’t directed at me. Rather it was directed at a team, and a folk, and a place, and an organization that this site doesn’t completely cover. Of course, I’m talking about the Edmonton Oilers.

The hate spewing from individuals that read or glance at this site is quite unique. It’s not a huge portion, but rather a very very small minority. But it’s entertaining, and so it’ll get some exposure in this space in the coming months (unless unicorns and rainbows overtake our psyche). And this particular arrival of hate mail is even more noteworthy in a locked out season, because hatred for success runs deep — even in the minors.

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NEWSFLASH: Taylor Hall Is Good, League Agrees

I guess he’s a good player (shrug). Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.

It’s official! Taylor Hall is a decent hockey players. Every Monday the American Hockey League unveils the week’s best player. This week, you guessed right, it’s Taylor Hall. Scoring one goal, earning eight assists, and posting a +6 in three games has earned him another piece of hardware in his young collection.

What’s amazing about this particular honor is that he earned POTW by only scoring one goal. That’s quite remarkable given the nature of his game. Had you told me Taylor Hall would eventually win the AHL Player of the Week award and only score one goal – I would have laughed, told you that he’d score more, and then buy you a 7-Eleven Slurpee because I felt bad for you. Instead, you’re buying me a Slurpee.

Official announcement via league:

The American Hockey League announced today that Oklahoma City Barons left wing Taylor Hall has been selected as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Nov. 25, 2012.

Hall notched nine points (one goal, eight assists) and a plus-6 rating in three games last week as the Barons began a seven-game road stretch with three straight victories.

On Wednesday night at Texas, Hall scored the game-winning goal and tallied two assists as the Barons rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Stars, 6-4. On Saturday in Charlotte, he notched three assists and set up the game-winner as Oklahoma City staged a third-period comeback and defeated the Checkers, 4-2. And in Sunday’s rematch, Hall assisted on the game-winning goal again, highlighting another three-assist performance in the Barons’ 7-2 win over Charlotte.

Hall, who joined the Barons on Oct. 30 after completing his recovery from shoulder surgery, has 11 points in his last four games and shows four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 10 total games with Oklahoma City this season. The first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the third-year pro and 21-year-old native of Calgary, Alta., has notched 49 goals and 46 assists for 95 points in 126 National Hockey League games with Edmonton.

In recognition of his achievement, Hall will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming Barons home game.

Oklahoma City Loves Them Some 2nd Period, Beat Charlotte 7-2

It’s an eye opening experience when you win against a really good team. Regardless of the sport, the ranking, the squad – a good win against a quality opponent means something. For our beloved Barons it means that the team has found a stride, albeit one that took some gentle coddling, warm hugging, and sleepless nights to attain, but it has been found. And the time for a momentum swing couldn’t have come at a better time. Pre-Christmas, pre-NHL lockout return (possibly), and with the Barons chasing that first place title, the team from Oklahoma City has found a new gear.

This afternoon, the Oklahoma City Barons dismantled the Charlotte Checkers 7-2 on away ice.

The boxscore reads like a who’s who of future scoring legends, but not necessarily of the American League variety.

Anton Lander, scoring his first goal of the season, kicked off the offensive outburst at 4:12 of the first. Assisted by Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi, it was a joyous moment for Lander who’d gone pointless for 14 straight games despite two really solid wingers on his left and right. Tim Wallace would tip in a shot to put the Checkers back into the thick of it near the halfway mark of the first frame. With Alex Plante committing a terrible interference call right in front of the Checkers net, the Barons would have to kill a penalty as time dropped below 10 minutes left. Chris VandeVelde decided to take matters into his own hands, and net a short hander. This would ignite a bit of a scoring run for the Barons because 4 minutes later Jordan Eberle would score his 10th of the season, and the third of the night for OKC. The period would end with the Barons on top with a score of 3-1. The 2nd period would be unkind to those in the Charlotte zip code.

The lone highlight for the Checkers in the 2nd period came courtesy of a power play goal, something they couldn’t accomplish against the Barons the night before. Zack Boychuk gets the tally, assisted by Zac Dalpe and Justin Faulk. From that point forward OKC flexed its muscle. Dane Byers, Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, and finally Teemu Hartikainen scored for Oklahoma City which put the Checkers, and their starting goaltender Dan Ellis, in white flag mode. The Barons only suffered one penalty the entire third period, and they looked red hot, dominate even.

The Barons would win 7-2, and beat the #1 team in the Western Conference on back-to-back nights. That’s a thing to behold. Charlotte is a very good team from the net out, but the Barons simply made them look silly.

Paul Branecky, whom works within the digital fortress in Charlotte, had these lovely quotes via his twitter from some highly respectable Checkers players:

Random Thoughts

The team looked really good tonight. That may be the understatement of the year so far. But what we did see is the secondary scoring we (I mean me) all thought would be important in key divisional games. Lander, CVV, Byers all getting the job done. This amplifies things for Oklahoma City in terms of whom and where the shots and scoring will come from. A team that can hit you in the mouth while also in the shins is a deadly one.

Justin Schultz is on pace to have 122 total points this season. Let that marinate. The liklihood of that happening are slim, but his dominance is apparent and abundant. Don’t discount a 90+ season is he stays healthy and the NHL stays locked out.

Yann, I mean c’mon. The guy has been good. Many thought it worth considering to place Olivier Roy in net to give him some road testing. However, in the key divisional matchup, and chasing the team in front of you in the standings, Coach Nelson went with the consistent netminder. I like that. But I think we see Roy and Danis share time over the next two weekends.

Oklahoma City Barons “Figure Out” Charlotte Checkers, Win 4-2

The first period in Charlotte was as anticipated as a Target Black Friday ad. There was no short of high energy, quick and poignant hockey chances, superb goaltending, and few penalties. The irony of the first period was that only a total f 13 shots were taken – 8 by Charlotte, 5 by Oklahoma City. But it wasn’t just the offense that seemed ready to go. The defense, both by forwards and straight forward defenders, was a kind of shiny that, for at least the Barons, we haven’t seen all that often. Schultz, Nugent-Hopkins, Hartikainen, and Rajala had really good chances both from a great distance and in close. Starting Checkers goaltender, Justin Peters shut them down quickly. And for Charlotte, Jerome Sampson and Zac Dalpe were really blazing some ice, and finding a few holes in the Barons blue line (and otherwise), but Danis came up big. A flurry of chances to end the period quickly got Yann into a groove, and it quickly became apparent that we were in for a doozy of a game. Period one ended with a 0-0 tie game.

The second period the offense started to boil. After two really good shifts, Zac Dalpe would put the Checkers on the big board first. Dalpe, scoring his sixth of the season, would provide some high drama throughout the game. Although trailing by a goal at this point, the Barons began to turn up the heat a bit in the wake of Charlotte amping their shot totals. Jordan Eberle would score the equalizing goal just past the midway point of the second period. Suddenly we have a game. Another Checker named Zack would score a goal to take the lead back. This time it was often-scorer Zack Boychuk. The period would end with the Checkers on top 2-1. But the not-so-silent victory in the second period was that the Barons kept the Checkers, who own the best power play in the entire league, at 0-2. That’d be a huge stat to end the game. Stay tuned.

The third period was all Oklahoma City on the scoreboard, but Charlotte really found ways of making it interesting. The Barons would give an early Christmas gift to the Checkers in the form of three power play opportunities including a crucial 3 on 5. But it was OKC that quickly turned things around offensively. Not shooting a ton, but using their chances wisely, the Barons top scoring line “did their thing”. Jordan Eberle scored his second of the night just 90 seconds into the third (assisted by Taylor Hall and Martin Marincin). Seven minutes later, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his eighth goal of the season (assisted by Justin Schultz and Taylor Hall). To seal the deal, Colten Teubert netted an extra one with a minute remaining, and the Checkers goaltender pulled.

The Barons win again, but this time against the best in the West. A 5-2 victory over a team like Charlotte feels like a 10-0 victory. Mainly because they sealed off the edges, center, and everything else in between on the Checkers pesky power play unit. Well done guys.

Same two teams face each other today at 2pm central. Now the thought becomes consistency for the Barons and adjustment for the Checkers. Should be another dandy.
Random Thoughts

Taylor Hall me baby. No goals but three helpers? That’s a good sign for Mr. Hall. He also was a chance monster (by my eye) and that’s also a good thing.

I mentioned secondary scoring in the pre-game post. I was completely wrong. The abilities of the “NHL GUYS” is hard to grasp. And, for the record, I’ve never seen a “minor” league team who is able to turn it on so quickly. Somewhat educate me. Have you ever seen anything like this before? Chances are you’ll say no, because there’s never been a minor league roster like the one for OKC.

Zac Dalpe can play. I’ve known this for a while, but really impressed me last night.

Yann did Yann things last night. Stopping 33 of 31 shots, and a whole bunch of those were on the PP. Well done Yann. We’re going streaking!