On Friday night, the Oklahoma City Barons began their final march towards solidifying an official playoff berth in the Calder Cup postseason. And the Abbotsford Heat were up first in a two-in-two tangle at the Cox Center. With both teams being vastly different, the first of two bouts among the two teams was a full display of the things that both teams do right.
The three headed goaltending monster of the Abbotsford Heat – Leeland Irving, Danny Taylor, and tonight Barry Brust – has been the one shiny penny in an otherwise grotesque pocket of AHL hockey. Tonight it was indeed Brust in net, and his reputation for being a cool, calm, collected, and curmudgeon of a goaltender held up. He was stopping shot after shot from the left, the right, dead center, with an extra attacker, in breakaways, and against more than one odd man rush. He was solid throughout, never got his feathers ruffled, and went about his business beautifully.
The Barons took their shots, and when those didn’t connect, they took their shots again. Peppering the opposing goaltender with an eventual 31 shots, but more importantly 12 in the first period, OKC went hard at the one piece of the Heat machine that needed to be broken down.
The slightly altered Barons lineup featured a return of captain Josh Green, Toni Rajala on the top line left wing, a healthy scratched Colten Teubert, and an absence of both Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager. And with this somewhat oddball lineup, the team looked very sharp.
The first two periods were low on penalties and high on chances. With Barry Brust playing well in his end, the same could be said of Yann Danis in his neck of the woods. It was none other than oft-injured veteran Krys Kolanos offering his greatest and most valiant offensive work in some time that gave Yann the greatest workouts. But YannD was up to the task.
It seemed that the Heat would again force an opponent to really earn their goals. And it was the 13:00 minute mark of the third period when that hard fought goal finally came. Toni Rajala would corral a rare Brust rebound after an odd offensive series/near-blunder from Jonathan Cheechoo. Rajala continues to prove that he has some really mature hockey senses as well as some good old fashioned luck. The late third period 1-0 lead by OKC appeared to be the death sentence for the Heat. But Chris VandeVelde went to the box on an odd fighting moment with Akim Alui, Randy Jones would play a puck out of play, and Tanner House roughed up a Heat player for seemingly no reason at all. However, OKC would overcome to beat Abbotsford 1-0 and earn two important standing points.
With Rockford dismantling San Antonio at the same time, even with a victory the Barons would have to wait at least one more day to lock up an official post season appearance.
As the game ended in some rough stuff and unkind words, the Saturday evening rematch will be one for the ages. ’Tis the season, I suppose.