Taylor Hall Is Back, Barons Defeat Aeros 4-3

Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.

Wearing number 22 and in an jersey more Oilers-like than Barons-like, Taylor Hall began his return to hockey after 7 1/2 months of rehabbing major shoulder surgery. His impact was immediate, and that’s not a metaphorical statement. In the first 38 seconds of the game, Hall scores his first goal as an OKC Baron. In a game highlighted by Hall’s return, it was some rough stuff that stole the show. Nonetheless, the Barons would defeat South Division rival, Houston, 4-3 in downtown Oklahoma City.

The first period began with a bang. Taylor Hall deflected in a long distance Colten Teubert shot to give the Barons the lead at the :38 mark of the first period. Less than a minute later, Jordan Eberle wheels down center ice, receives a beautiful pass from Mark Arcobello along the wall, beats an Aeros defender and wrists a shot past goaltender Darcy Kuemper for a 2-0 Barons lead. Outside of that first few minutes of play, the Barons didn’t put the puck on the net much, but neither did the Aeros. The first period ends with the Barons seemingly in full control, 2-0

In the second period, Yann Danis began to look like the Danis we saw a year ago. The one that became the league’s best goaltender. And again, the Barons added to the scoring. This time it was Teemu Hartikainen, who’s developed a knack for scoring behind the goal line extended, hit the skate of Chad Rau and then between the legs of Kuemper. The Barons had a pretty solid lead of 3-0 that they protected for the entire second period.

Few penalties, good goaltending, and smart passing kept the Barons in the lead for nearly 40 minutes of play. But Houston wouldn’t go away.

In the third period, Houston found a level of urgency they hadn’t shown in the first two frames. Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, and Charlie Coyle scored in a 7 minute span to suddenly roar back to life. Defenders were caught off their marks, and Danis did his best to bail out his teammates, but it seemed that Houston was prepped for a dandy of a comeback.

A Cam Abney roughing penalty, leading to the third goal by Charlie Coyle, was mind numbingly bad. And it almost cost the Barons a win. But a Justin Schultz pass to Jordan Eberle put the Barons back on top. The pass was perfect, tape to tape, and Eberle lifted it just enough to beat the visiting tender.

Even with a late period check to the head, match penalty assessed Taylor Hall infraction, the Barons were able to hold on to beat the Houston Aeros 4-3. The same two face each other tonight at 7pm.

Random Thoughts

The big talk this morning is the Taylor Hall check to the head of Jonas Brodin. I’ve posted the video here. It’s hard to tell from the angle what went down. Hall said in post game comments that he believes he hit him shoulder to shoulder. And the camera angle in the Cox Center is so distant, that it’s difficult to tell exactly. The league will look at this, as they do with every match penalty given, and will likely dish out a suspension if indeed they find it to be a head hit. Given the visual evidence, and taking into consideration what the zebras called on the ice, it would appear that a suspension would occur. No word on Brodin’s condition, but he was apparently dinged up just a bit.

Also injured was Mikael Granlund when Colten Teubert hit him along the boards. Some have said it was a knee. Other say it was a hip. Regardless, losing Granlund is huge for the Aeros. He’s the hand turning the crank on the Houston machine. He’s also coming off a rookie of the month award in the AHL.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was scratched this evening. In the three games in three days scenario, Coach Nelson has elected to swap the likes of Nuge, Ebs, and Hall throughout the three day span. Nuge was out last night. Look for Hall to be out tonight. Ebs on Sunday.

Yann Danis looked great across two periods. He had at least three 2nd period saves that were really stellar. But in the third, when the defense got dicey and the Aeros’ went hard, he couldn’t come up with the big saves. That’s not good. If he can unleash a good chunk of play each game, the Barons can likely outscore their opponents. So he doesn’t have to be great, just efficient and timely. Look for Olivier Roy to go tonight in net.

Teigan Zahn was perfectly fine alongside Colten Teubert. Zahn, called up from Stockton to fill in for Brandon Davidson, survived in his first game back in OKC.

Teemu Hartikainen and Mark Arcobell are flying under the radar this season with the top heavy roster they currently play on. But don’t discount the incredible offensive work they have done. Really great stuff worth watching.

Taylor Hall’s Hit On Jonas Brodin. Suspendable?

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After a 7 1/2 month absence from gametime hockey, Taylor Hall returned to a pro lineup in Oklahoma City last night. He scored a goal within the first :38 of the game, but a hit later in the game might be the most memorable moment of his return.

Mind you, Hall has had shoulder issues, thus making this hit kinda silly for more reason than just one. Is it a head shot or a shoulder hit where the head hits the boards. Regardless, he was given a match penalty for a hit to the head. Suspendable offense? You be the judge.

Mikael Granlund Injured In Last Night’s Loss

Mikael Granlund was apparently injured in last night’s loss to OKC. As you can see in the attached video, Colten Teubert seemingly gives a routine body check along the wall, but Granlund comes up a bit gimpy. No report has been given on the nature of the prospects injury nor if he’s out for tonight’s rematch.

Workin’ For The Weekend – The Barons Welcome Their First Three In Three “1-2-3”

The Miami Sound Machine circa 1988

The end of Miami Sound Machine was supposedly bitter. Gloria Estefan, the famed frontwoman for the group, stole the show. Her voice. Her knack for writing pop tunes. Her heavy-handed and direct nature. Her famous husband. It was inevitable that the group would disband bitterly, and in fragmented pieces. Somewhere around 1988, when the band took off, the band changed names to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. Was this a power move? A PR stunt? A marketing ploy? Yes to all. And just as the Latin sound began to really gel with late 80’s pop, things got dicey for several members of the band. Not all was lost, the band would surge on, and the group as a whole would overcome a lot of obstacles (tour bus accident being the most difficult) to launch a great career of a solo artist, thus leaving the world with some memorable music.

One of my personal favorites has always been “1-2-3”, the happy go lucky, come hithery tune that is an ear worm of the greatest proportions. It’s the group at it’s finest, and Estefan at her most sparkly. It also ties in nicely to a minor league hockey post about taking three steps, 1-2-3, in a weekend full of games.

Houston. Houston. San Antonio. Each and every off-season the American Hockey League does it’s best with scheduling. Like any pro, but minor league, it’s difficult to hard wire a schedule when you share space with higher level pro teams, and live in communities where rodeo circuits and Disney On Ice are better money makers for the city. And so the scheduling matrix is heavy on weekend games, as equally as heavy on close, divisional opponents, and often featuring a handful of three games in three nights. And so the Oklahoma City Barons will embark on their first three-in-three this weekend as they host Houston on Friday and Saturday, and travel to San Antonio on Sunday.

The Friday/Saturday turnaround isn’t all that bad. The two games are on home ice, and separated by 24 hours. That’s doable. What’s difficult is the Saturday/Sunday travel with less than a full day to travel, recover, and prepare for an eight hour (+) bus trip to San Antonio, Texas. All three are important games despite only being a baby step into November. Doug Sauter, former Oklahoma City Blazers coach, always had a saying that went something like, “It isn’t how many games you win before Christmas, but how many you win after.” This year, in this league, with this team, I couldn’t disagree more. Seize the opportunities now. Who knows what’s on the other side of Christmas.

The double dose of Houston should be palpable matchup worth watching. Bad blood has been brewing between these two since the preseason where Mikael Granlund obliterated the Barons goaltenders and defensemen. And last Friday night, the brewing turned to boiling as the Aeros again destroyed OKC defensive players, and was highlighted by a Colten Teubert fight with an unsuspecting Brett Bulmer. Coach Nelson was sullied by the team’s performance, roused them to play better, and they did. But the anger remains, and the memories are fresh.

Houston is, as I type, a 4-2-1 team with the two regulation losses coming from South Div opponents (Charlotte, San Antonio). They are a team that likes to take advantage of your mistakes, all while unceremoniously making many mistakes themselves. And they are fine with that, especially out of the gate. They don’t back down, and are notoriously chancy in front of opposing nets. This causes headaches for goaltenders, and it’s all a part of the game plan.

The Aeros have had really sound power play units the last two seasons, and early on the near 26% completion rate is fourth in the entire league. This will be key for Oklahoma City – to stay level headed.

Then there’s the trip to San Antonio. Eight hours on a bus (or other mode of transportation) gives a team time to rest and also think about what’s to come. The Rampage are nearly polar opposite of the Houston Aeros in the man advantage/disadvantage categories. They are really strong on the kill, and pretty bad with an extra skater. But it’s not all the fault of coaching or execution – they are built to defend from the net out. With only two wins under their belt, they’ve had difficulty scoring, yet own one of the lowest goals allowed totals in the league (20). That is, in part, due to the play of Dov Grumet-Morris and his .953 save percentage. He’s tough to get around.

The last time the Barons met the Rampage Justin Schultz scored twice en route to a 5-2 OKC victory. But expect the Rampage, and the likes of Drew Shore, to heat up. There is enough fire power on this team to score. But can they OUTscore the Barons. This remains to be seen.

Random Thoughts

Mike Baldwin at the Oklahoman has the details on the “NHL guys” and when they’ll play this weekend:

With three games in three days this weekend, Nelson won’t play the Oilers’ young stars three consecutive days.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, probably won’t play Friday. Jordan Eberle, a first-round pick in 2009, probably won’t play at San Antonio on Sunday. Hall won’t play back-to-back days as a precaution.

Brandon Davidson, whom was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer, will be replaced in the lineup by Teigan Zahn. Zahn is a player that, in a non-lockout season, likely is a full-time Baron instead of a part-time one. He’ll bring another edge defensively to OKC that might be needed this weekend.

Cam Abney, too, is available. This, again, adds some toughness to the lineup just in case things get sideways with Hall, Nuge, Eberle, etc. Should we see him in the lineup, he’ll play deep, and be used in limited minutes.

The practice lines were interesting leading up to today (thanks Eric). Here is how they looked:

Teemu Hartikainen – Mark Arcobello – Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall – Chris VandeVelde – Magnus Paajarvi
Tyler Pitlick – Ryan Martindale – Antti Tyrvainen
Dane Byers – Tanner House – Cameron Abney

Scratched: Anton Lander, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Curtis Hamilton

Justin Schultz – Martin Marincin
Teigan Zahn – Colten Teubert
Taylor Fedun – Alex Plante

Lander, Nuge, Hamilton area all scratched in favor of a lineup with some “bite”. That Byers-House-Abney line is a force of nature. CVV centering MPS and Hall is a safe way to go. Chris is a good setup man that rarely hangs his wingers out to dry, or forces them to play hard on the boards. All the play slides down the middle, which perfectly compliments Hall’s cannonball style.

I can’t imagine that Zahn squeezes in anywhere but with Teubert or Plante. He’s a hard player to simply swap out with Davidson, but it might just work. The Teubert-Zahn pair could be something we see more of in the future.

Justin Schultz Named AHL Player Of The Month

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

It’s been a good opening month of hockey for Justin Schultz. A rookie defenseman with a high velocity scoring habit has done things few, if any, have done in their first month in the AHL. It was announced today that he was the Player of the Month for the entire league. Close behind was Mikael Granlund, of the Houston Aeros, who earned the Rookie of the Month award. How a player can be a rookie, win the player of the month, and NOT win the rookie of the month is kinda weird. But it’s an everyone-wins-no-consolation-prize world.

The league’s announcement:

Making his professional debut, Schultz found the scoresheet in each of his seven games played during October, totaling six goals and six assists for a league-leading 12 points for the Barons.

After notching an assist in his first game on Oct. 12 at Lake Erie, Schultz scored the game-winning goal in Oklahoma City’s 3-2 victory over the Monsters the next day. In his next outing, a 5-2 win over San Antonio on Oct. 19, Schultz scored two shorthanded goals, assisted on the game-winner and notched a plus-5 rating, earning first-star honors for the game. Schultz finished the month with three consecutive two-point performances, dishing out two assists each on Oct. 23 vs. Lake Erie and Oct. 26 vs. Houston and then scoring a pair of power-play goals in a 4-2 win over Texas on Oct. 28.

Oilers Prospect, Brandon Davidson, To Undergo Cancer Treatment

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

Life is way more important than anything else. Not just how we live it, but how we tackle the odds against us. And human life always transcends entertainment, even in 2012 where the lines are blurred between the two. Today, it’s a moment of real life for Oilers prospect Brandon Davidson, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The official Barons release:

Oklahoma City Barons rookie defenseman Brandon Davidson has been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Davidson will undergo immediate treatment at The Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center on the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center campus in downtown Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Barons and Edmonton Oilers ask that Davidson’s privacy be respected at this time. The club will provide updates regarding his health as they become available.

This comes during a season where Davidson, the Barons, and the Oilers are on the radar of every hockey fan from Oklahoma City to Edmonton. And suddenly that all seems a little less important.

On the first day of Movember, where men grow mustache’s in hopes of bringing awareness to men’s health issues, Davidson begins the process of fighting testicular cancer. This form of cancer, although easily treated, typically strikes men in their early 20’s and 30’s. Often going under the radar, a monthly personal exam can lead to quick treatment and speedy recover. And we are fully expecting that from Brandon.

In the meantime, head to OKCBarons.com to read the updates, and donate to their Movember campaign. Also check out mobro.co/neallivingston for donation options, health checklists, and info about all things men’s health.

In the meantime, watch Davidson. Not on the ice, but in real life. He’ll overcome. He’ll demonstrate the value of healthy living. And he’ll get back to playing a game he desperately loves.

Taylor Hall Signs AHL Contract. Unleash The Cannonball

It’s official. Taylor Hall is now an Oklahoma City Baron. It goes without saying, that this might be the strangest headline I’ve read in the last 5 years in terms of hockey that I follow. Why? Because whodathunk it would ever be a thing we’d discuss. Unless you were a fantastic sports forecaster and saw the NHL lockout happening, this should come as a surprise to you as well.

Now with Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and Taylor Hall in AHL sweaters, the stakes seem infinitely higher on two levels.

First, this team SHOULD dominate and SHOULD vie for the Western Conference #1 seed come playoff time. That’s a long time away, and there are a lot of moving parts around the league. However, it should be the goal.

Second, the NHL kids need to stay healthy. Whether that’s through “playing it safe” via a rotation of in-and-out’s during a week-long stretch of games (which is happening this weekend) or it’s by throwing some heavies in the lineup to protect (also happening this weekend). Either way, the typically non-AHLer’s need to be safe, but effective. That might be a delicate line to balance.

This weekend the Barons play a three in three (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). It should be worth watching for many reasons, but now officially it can be because we have Taylor Hall to watch. Unleash the cannonball.

Via the official release at www.okcbarons.com:

The Oklahoma City Barons signed forward Taylor Hall to an American Hockey League contract, Barons General Manager Bill Scott announced today.

Hall, a 5-11, 190-pounder from Calgary, Alberta was the #1 overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He made an immediate impact, playing in the NHL at the age of 18. For his NHL career, he has played in 126 games over two seasons, scoring 95 points (49-46-95).

Before being drafted #1 overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Hall played three full seasons with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. With Windsor, he scored 280 points (123-157-280) in only 183 games. Hall’s best season was his final with Windsor when he scored 106 points (40-66-106).

Hall joins fellow first-rounders Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi, Alex Plante, Colten Teubert and Jordan Eberle on the Barons roster. Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle were assigned to Oklahoma City by their parent club, the Edmonton Oilers in mid-September.

“The addition of Taylor Hall to the lineup is boost to the roster,” said Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr. “Having two athletes drafted #1 overall playing in Oklahoma City has never happened before. They join a lineup of fantastic athletes our coaches have the opportunity to work with on a daily basis. I believe the sports fan in Oklahoma can relate to the outstanding athletic ability our players have and will increase the value of our games for our fans.”

“Taylor Hall is a very competitive player who has had success in the NHL for two seasons,” said Barons General Manager Bill Scott. “With Taylor coming off his shoulder injury from last season, it is important for him to continue to play hockey as he is still in his prime development years. We know that he will be a great fit here in OKC and we look forward to adding him to our lineup.”

Hall and Nugent-Hopkins are the seventh and eighth athletes that have been selected #1 overall in their particular sport and played professionally for a team in Oklahoma City. They will join baseball players Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez and Kris Benson and hockey players Barry Gibbs, Rick Pagnutti and Bob Neely as #1 overall selections to play professionally in Oklahoma City. The pair will be the first to play on the same team at the same time.