As the dust settles from the carefree unwrapping of packages in every corner of the world, the time has come for normalcy to return. Good people return to their work routines, families attempt to begin regularly scheduled life programming, and mobility through a single day becomes a little less chaotic. From October 1 to December 25, our worlds become militantly wild and crazy for those of us whom choose to celebrate Christmas. The culture of the North American holiday season dictates that we do things so completely south of the norm that it takes us another 3 months to recover. Or perhaps that’s just me. So as this globe we are all riding continues to spin, let’s begin to embrace a bit of normal behavior, of routine, of things less egg nog laced, and with fewer fat grams.
So the Oklahoma City Barons will try to do the same.
A ZZ Top classic like “Sharp Dressed Man” needs no introduction. A song about looking good, getting the goods, and being anything but good is memorable from the first crunch of the electric guitar. It’s a song that only ZZ Top could pull off without looking icky or self important. Because these guys were always about straight forward rock and the image that played such a vital role in their success. For all practical purposes (to which the video elluded to in the days of early MTV), this band was the epitome of dressing sharp.
So I’ll plead with my Barons to look sharp. Don’t come to play in your overalls and Crocs because winners dress sharp. They play sharp too. And if ZZ Top doesn’t inspire you to do just that, play sharp, then I have only a pair of black shades and white gloves to urge you along.
There was a time where OKC hockey was abuzz on Christmas Day. The annual tradition of the CHL Oklahoma City Blazers Christmas games featured a lot of boozy outbursts from a cagey crowd all whilst young, tender-hearted children looked on with horror. It twas a blessed occurrence. But times have changed, and the American League has pigeon holed the Barons with a New Year’s Eve game, and that’s fine by me. So that gives the Barons a time off period of several days which included Christmas Day. While the time off is needed, it’s also coming at a terrible time. Missed practices because of the holidays are rightfully due a hard working team, but it also throws a monkey wrench into the hapless grind that “prospect” teams desperately cling to for consistency purposes. So I fully expect the baby Oilers to be a bit rusty, rough around the edges even. Because even a few days can kill some mojo.
A quick glance at the schedule reveals two interesting back-to-backs. First up, this evening the Barons will take on the Texas Stars in Cedar Park. They’ll zoom back, following the game, to OKC where they’ll face the Rampage. The team will stay put to play Texas again on New Year’s Eve followed by another long bus ride to Houston on New Year’s Day. Welcome to the life of a minor league hockey player, where road warriors are built and often destroyed.
I’ll focus on the first two games in this post, then we’ll wrestle the angry beast of New Year’s games in a few days.
Oh Texas. Your distinguished silhouette is becoming colorized and three dimensional. A foe worth studying. A historically potent opponent. Most recently, these two teams looked each other square in the eye and shared a win and a loss. The first being a lifeless endeavor for OKC that showed off some brilliant goaltending and dynamite defense by the opposition. The second was a steel fisted scoring fiesta by the Barons that started to veer towards Uglyville in the waning minutes. I genuinely believe the league wanted to initiate a rivalry among these two teams for various reasons, and I don’t think it’s happened yet. But one thing is for sure, when these two play, you never know which way it will go.
Texas had the luxury of squeezing in a December 26th game. I point this out, because they get an opportunity to get their sea legs back following Christmas. That seems like a leg up for those whom have to wait an extra day to get back on the ice. But for the Stars, things didn’t go as planned. They were defeated in OT by the Houston Aeros in the Toyota Center. An emotional, hard fought game like that, might take a toll on the team in the short term. But I choose to believe the opposite – the Barons look uber rusty out of the post-Christmas hangover. Again, no practice time is a mojo killer.
The Barons will need to have a strong first period to set the tone for this one. I can’t imagine a scenario where OKC gets down a goal early, and finds the intestinal fortitude to rise from the muck and the mire to then begin the scoring frenzy. They are capable, I just don’t see that happening. And I fully believe that Todd Nelson throws us a quick forecheck and maybe a shortened bench from the get go to get the lactic acid to bubble over. I like that game plan. Forcing the team to be sharp and fast, instead of “letting the game come to us”.
The San Antonio Rampage had a terrible start to November, but started to head towards right standing in early December. Unfortunately for them, they’ve arced towards losing more often in the middle and end of December. With a healthy losing streak in tow, the Rampage beat the Hamilton Bulldogs in their pre-Christmas game, 5-2. Prior to that win on the 22nd, they hadn’t won a game since the 9th. The roller coaster ride of a season for the Rampage is something they’ve focused on overcoming of late. And they seem to match up very well with OKC having won two against them in December, but also losing two (the most recent pair).
They continue to be a highly chancy team. They seem to anticipate mistakes by opponents very well, and then turn those mistakes into points for them. That’s the mark of a dangerous team, and one that can really turn the screws on the Barons whom are prone to mistakes especially defensively. I think the Barons win at home, but if the Rampage can get solid goaltending and stay out of the box, they’ll certainly play them to the wire.
In the end, both games will be highly energetic as clubs position themselves in a South Division where 1st place is only 7 points better than 4th place. And with the mid-way point of the season rapidly approaching, wins in December are key. Get ’em while they’re hot.
Likely Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:
Curtis Hamilton – Mark Arcobello – Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall – Josh Green – Teemu Hartikainen
Magnus Paajarvi – Anton Lander – Tyler Pitlick
Dane Byers – Chris VandeVelde – Tanner House
Out: Ryan Martindale (knee); Kristians Pelss (ECHL suspended); Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (World Juniors vacation); Antti Tyrvainen (arm); Philippe Cornet
Colten Teubert – Taylor Fedun
Justin Schultz – Nathan Deck
Alex Plante – Martin Marincin
Out: Dan Ringwald (arm); Brandon Davidson (recovering); Jordan Henry