Oh Wham! Your exclamated band name, your knack for sugar coated pop tunes, your glorious George Michael facial hair, your neon colored clothing options, and your rousing mid-80’s excesses – I love you. You charmed the pants off a generation (George Michael icky pun intended) of people who quietly sighed when your music played, but rocked out to in their cars. Skating rinks and their tingly amplifiers rang out beautiful upbeat melodies so infectious that it felt wrong, but simultaneously so right. The 80’s were as raunchy as a bag of skittles, at least the pop music scene (and if your name wasn’t Madonna or MJ).
George Michael and musical partner Andrew Ridgeley crossed the pond and into the ears of Americans in the early 80’s. After dabbling in serious adult contemporary with heavy undertones, the band found its legs and its money in pop music that was easily digestible.
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is such a track.
An accidental note, scribbled on a scrap of paper, would go on to birth one of the biggest singles for the group as well as one of the biggest of 1984. It was merely a silly triumph to an almost-doo-wop sound and sixties vibe that warmed the heartstrings. It was a good song. It was excessive. It was pointless. It was Wham!. But it is still so rad.
The Oklahoma City Barons may not look to George and Andrew for inspiration. As a matter of fact, they might scowl at the thought (along with asking, “What’s A Wham!”?). The team will be playing a 10:35am game against the visiting Toronto Marlies. Yes, you read that right. The annual “School Day Game” features 3,000 screaming middle schoolers, with brave chaperones, and high pitched squeals of delight. So grab a strong cup of coffee, your heavy winter coat, a pair of ear muffs, and iPod strategically tuned in to Wham!: Greatest Hits, and head to the Cox Center for a visiting Northerner. Wake me up. Before. You. Go-Go!
Despite being fourth in the North Division in terms of overall standing points, the team is actually pacing better than the Oklahoma City Barons (and have played one fewer game to-date). They are currently riding a three game win streak as they tour the South Division of the Western Conference, and have soundly beat Texas, Houston, and San Antonio by 2 goals or better. Those outright victories have Toronto on a brief upswing.
You’ll recall the last time these two teams played each other it was for the Western Conference title in the playoffs. The Barons lost 3-1 and 3 straight games to dash their hopes of a Calder Cup Final appearance. That score card featured names like Holzer, Fraser, Gardiner, Scrivens, Colborne, and Lashoff, and Orr. The roster in 2012-13 is not all that different.
The biggest offseason “get” for the Marlies was Keith Aucoin. The longtime minor leaguer has 102 games of NHL play under his belt, and even more time in the minors. He’s a decent player still, even at 34 years old. And this season he’s already earned 11 points in 11 games, and has assisted greatly on a second line with two AHL rookies in Spencer Abbott and Leo Komarov. Adding him to the lineup has given some stability outside of the big guns on top of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, and Mike Zigomanis.
7 players with multiple goals, and 11 others with at least a single goal, all point to a balanced scoring front from the well coached Marlies. Dallas Eakins, a coaching prospect in his own right, has a team that could be dangerous in the coming months. But defense is key as consistent offense might be a struggle.
Their power play hasn’t found it’s wings yet, but the penalty kill seems to be the most bummer-worthy. Which points us to the goaltending situation. Three goaltenders in 11 games, all with various degrees of success. Ben Scrivens is 3-3, Jussi Rynnas is 2-0-1, and Mark Owuya is 1-1. Why ride three goaltenders in a lockout season? Simply put, these are the only Toronto prospects for the NHL at the goaltender position. And that means that all eyes are on these three to be good. Scrivens is clearly the starter, but has struggled in the first couple of games he’s started (sound familiar?).
Around the tenders, Jesse Blacker, Korbinian Holzer, Simon Gysbers, and of course Jake Gardiner, lead the charge. But guys like former Baron Dylan Yeo have aided greatly in defending the zone. They haven’t been great mind you, but they’ve been well enough.
For Oklahoma City, this is a tough game. The last four games have been unkind, and the road trip to Abbotsford might have taken its toll. This could be a good, quiet, bounce-back game for Oklahoma City. They need the points, and they need a resounding victory.
As mentioned above, these early morning games are tough on the team. Especially for those coming off the road, and with little rest. That might spell disaster for the Barons, so the importance of focused/disciplined play will be at the forefront.
Likely Barons Lines:
I don’t see the forward lines changing much, if any at all. The top two scoring lines seem to be moving along, and the third line has had flashes recently that might prove it noteworthy.
Defensively, there’s no need to run out Jordan Henry, if the team wants to move the puck quickly. That’s why I think Fedun and Ringwald jump in with Plante and Henry scratched. But it’s entirely possible that those four get the blender treatment.
Roy needs a good game. Danis was given the back-to-back in Abbotsford, and Roy needs to “get one in”. And this early morning game favors his mechanics and youthfulness.
Games starts at 10:35 am on AHLLive and the various listening options over at www.okcbarons.com