Workin’ For The Weekend: Three Game Finale “Final Countdown”

Europe Final Countdown
Ominous much, fellas? Europe, you’re rad.

Twenty million albums sold is an incredible number. If you did that in the 80’s, it made you one of the most successful bands of that decade. Now imagine that band being from Sweden. Imagine them producing nine albums in their lifetime, and nineteen videos. Any idea whom I’m talking about? You (and I) probably wouldn’t get it within ten guesses, so I’ll spare you the roll of the dice. I’m talking about Europe. Yes, that Europe.

In 1986, the band Europe released their third album, and their most successful one of their career. It was entitled The Final Countdown and featured a song by the same name. In addition, “Love Chaser”, “Carrie”, and and “Rock The Night” propelled this record to three million sold for the oddly labeled hard rock band.

They were a theatrical rock group with great hair, a whiny delivery, and painted on pants. They clearly defined themselves as a “hair band”, and by embracing that, they’d win eons of fans.

The number one song in 25 countries, “The Final Countdown”, was never intended to be a single, but rather a concert opener to rev up the engines of the swooning masses (see: ladies). It eventually became their signature song, and the inspiration for an obscure local hockey blog who’s team is finishing a regular season of play.

Joey Tempest probably had something else in mind when he wrote the lyrics to this song, which are secondary to the instrumentation. But I’ll take the easiest road to paralelling the song to our beloved Barons. Three final games. Three final opportunities to better your position in the playoffs. It’s the final countdown. Use your time wisely. And as Tempest suggests, “Will things ever be the same again?”

Three games this weekend for the Barons. Three games all played at home. Kicking things off is a double dose of the Abbotsford Heat who were officially eliminated from playoff contention several weeks ago. Much like the Hamilton Bulldogs, it’s been a brutal season for the Heat with call-ups, injuries, and just plain inconsistency, they’ve revealed the damaged pieces of a less-than-desirable season for the team affiliated with the Calgary Flames.

Games between the Barons and Heat have typically been entertaining, although incredibly one-sided. This season the team’s have only played twice, splitting those games, and as a result of the re-configured Western Conference divisions, gone are the days where they play twice as many games in a season. And that’s too bad.

The story line is simple. Abbotsford at 4th in the North is in 12th place in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City at 4th in the South is in 7th in the Western Conference. Abbotsford trying to find ways to salvage a season. Oklahoma City trying to find its way into the playoffs. But still, Abbotsford has a way of bringing out the worst in the Barons especially when they face-off at home. A 3-3-0-0 record lifetime in OKC has me always worried that the teams get under each other’s skin just enough to make a back-to-back win for the Barons this weekend a not-so guarantee. But the Barons need both wins, and they’ll wrap up a spot in the playoffs (most likely).

The center position for the Heat has been something to talk about for two years (maybe more). Roman Horak (now in Calgary), Ben Walter, and Ben Street are three of the top four scorers on this Abbotsford squad. A combined 83 points between “The Two Ben’s” is quite impressive. But when you look at the scorers beyond those two or three, and look outside the points they’ve scored, all are below zero in the +/- department. But that’s not the entire story, because they’ve only given up 190 goals the entire season which is near the best in the Western Conference. Further down the rabbit hole, you’ll find that they don’t score a ton either thus bringing their differential to -22 compared to OKC’s +4.

I’ll move out on to the wobbly limb and say that the Barons can beat the defense of the Heat, and really turn the screws on one of the goaltenders in the league who is least likely to let in more than two goals. Danny Taylor, with a 2.05 GAA, is second best in the league in that category. And if he gets the start over Barry Brust, expect him to be peppered with 20+ shots before the Barons score one. But let me spell it out clearly for you, if the Barons score more than three in each game this weekend, they win. Less than that mark, it will be scary.

And then comes the finale. The Houston Aeros, who recently but not surprisingly, will be moving to Des Moines after this season, come rolling in to town for the final game of the season for both teams. Bittersweet is it, knowing that this is the last time OKC will face off against Houston in the regular season especially given the high-octane and entirely entertaining days they’ve had together in three seasons. That instant Texas vs. Oklahoma rivalry will be missed, but the immediate impact of the two going head-to-head has huge implications for Calder Cup seeding.

Houston, with 86 points has two games prior to the season finale with Oklahoma City. The best in the West, Texas Stars, and the almost worst in the West, San Antonio Rampage. Oklahoma City has one fewer point in the standings, and could easily overtake Houston in the standings with some help along the way. But it may come down to that final game in OKC on Sunday evening.

Winning five of the last six (only loss in that span to OKC), the team has been really good lately, as have the Barons. But the Aeros always present a difficult task for OKC, especially for goaltender Yann Danis who’s had a 3-4-3 record this season (Olivier Roy 0-1-0). They’ve owned the Barons this season in the shootout, and that’s why it’s key to get out to a big lead.

With Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, and Johan Larsson in Minnesota, the team has only reloaded with some back-end talent to keep them afloat for a while. Justin Fontaine is the go-to guy, with over 50 points in 61 games, and ten points in ten games against OKC this season alone. Dangerous he is.

The shifty nature of defenseman Brian Connely on the power play has earned him nineteen PP assists this season, and that’s a pretty sizable number. This has always allowed Houston to be one of the best man-advantage teams in the league, and facing the worst penalty kill in the league in OKC causes a nasty caludron to bubble over with gross amounts of goals scored. OKC will have to be sharp.

Likely OKC Barons Lineup:

Philippe Cornet – Mark Arcobello – Jonathan Cheechoo
Toni Rajala – C.J. Stretch – Chris VandeVelde
Curtis Hamilton – Ryan Martindale – Tyler Pitlick
Darcy Hordichuk – Tanner House – Ben Eager

Martin Marincin – Taylor Fedun
Randy Jones – Colten Teubert
Brandon Davidson – Alex Plante.

Yann Danis
(Niko Hovinen)

Scratched: Ringwald, McFaull, Stafford, Deck, Green, Tyrvainen, Leach, Pelss, Hotham

Antti Tyrvainen was dinged up on Tuesday, so chances are we see the “2nd Round Line” again this weekend for at least a game or two. I also assumed that sticking Eager and Hordichuk together “wouldn’t happen again”, and I was wrong. We did, it didn’t work well, and I think that changes. But who goes in? Not many choices (assuming Kristians Pelss still sits out, as the team slowly eases him back into the lineup after injury).