Edmond, Oklahoma Native, Matt Donovan Ties Justin Schultz

matt donovan islanders
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

High quality AHL defenders aren’t growing on trees in every minor league town across North America. Sure there are really good ones floating around in both conferences of the league, but when it comes to the puck moving variety – Oklahoma has the lock down, and none currently play for the Barons.

Last week, Justin Schultz was named the AHL Defenseman of the Year which hadn’t been given to a rookie in its 55 year history. Scoring eighteen goals and thirty assists in 34 games, it was a pace that the league had never seen before, and will likely never see again. We have the lockout to thank for that one. But someone else equaled the point totals of Justin Schultz and it took a full seventy to get there, but the Oklahoma ties are worth pointing out.

Matt Donovan, born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, and now playing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, is a part of the youthful emergence of hockey in this state, despite the fact that he’s a long way from home. To have one of our own, born and raised, playing so well and in the NHL from time to time, makes the years of CHL, now AHL, and organized youth hockey worth the effort and worthy of our attention. If he can do it, so can anyone with enough talent and hard work. That’s huge for this state, and for the Donovan family.

With two assists on the final day of play, Donovan tied Justin Schultz for the most points scored by a defenseman in the AHL in 2012-2013. The narrative is simple. Justin Schultz, a player who debuted in OKC, wows the masses with his point totals, but fine tunes his first moments of pro hockey in a state not known for pucks and sticks. Meanwhile, a guy that is proof that hockey players can emerge from anywhere, finishes second to Schultz. In hockey terms, one may have been built in OKC, but the other is literally building it. Building a future for players like himself that were born in the great state of Oklahoma.

Well done to both gentlemen.

Oklahoma City And Charlotte To Meet In Calder Cup First Round

Barons Lineup
After winning their final two games of the regular season, the Oklahoma City Barons leapfrogged the Houston Aeros to earn a first round matchup in the Calder Cup Quarterfinals with the Charlotte Checkers. The best of five series begins Friday and Saturday in Oklahoma City. Here’s the full schedule of the first round series:

Game 1 April 26 Charlotte @ Oklahoma City 7 p.m.

Game 2 April 27 Charlotte @ Oklahoma City 7 p.m.

Game 3 May 1 Oklahoma City @ Charlotte 6 p.m.

*Game 4 May 3 Oklahoma City @ Charlotte 6 p.m.

*Game 5 May 4 Oklahoma City @ Charlotte 6 p.m.

* if necessary all times listed as CDT

Keep in mind that the teams will be re-ordered after the first round so that the highest-remaining seed plays the lowest-remaining seed.

For some great insight on the “why” and “why not” of the AHL quarterfinals format, head over to 100 Degree Hockey (devoted to the Texas Stars).

The postseason is here. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

Regular Season Finale Comes & Goes, Barons Beat Aeros 3-0

Niko Hovinen Side Helmet
Niko’s on the case. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

The points were earned last night that were needed. With the Oklahoma City Barons officially nabbing a playoff spot the night before with a victory over the Abbotsford Heat, the Barons had one more game to deal with during the regular season. Facing the Houston Aeros, and Josh Harding (on a conditioning stint; MS treatments), the OKC Barons would take care of business and eventually win 3-0.

Niko Hovinen enters the rotation prior to the postseason beginning, and a few Barons regulars sit out for an extra days worth of rest. But it didn’t matter much as the Barons dominated the Aeros for much of the game with their high shot totals, solid penalty kill, and propensity to just do nice things.

Josh Green and Jonathan Cheechoo were the high profile healthy scratches in addition to Brandon Davidson and Martin Marincin on the defensive side, who have been heavy regulars. Yann Danis gets the rest, and Niko Hovinen finally has a chance to start prior to the postseason, and the stars were beginning to align.

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Ice Hockey and the Wild West: Kirill Tulupov and his stint with the Arizona Sundogs

Photo: Kirill Tulupov after Sutherby fight Dec. 2, 2011 OKC Barons vs. San Antonio Rampage. (Photo: Courtesy Candace Riley. All Rights Reserved.)

 In early March following former OKC Barons defenseman Kirill Tulupov’s return to North America, he kindly granted an interview (published at ArtfulPuck) and I was able to talk to him about his unusual situation and how he ended up playing with the Central Hockey League’s Arizona Sundogs at the end of this season. Tulupov’s straightforward and sincere account about his experiences gives you a glimpse into the odd situations that players find themselves in during lockouts. Do they sit out and wait for the next season, do they play abroad, or do they head to the overcrowded minors?

After the NHL announced their lockout, Tulupov headed east to the KHL and expected to return immediately to North America upon the conclusion of the lockout. In the end however, it did not work out that way. It all came down to timing and the NHL lockout: the date of NHL’s return to play, the release date from his KHL team and the various North American league deadlines for returning European players. In the end upon his return to North America after missing both the AHL and ECHL deadlines, Tulupov joined the CHL’s Sundogs, an affiliate of the nearby Phoenix Coyotes, as they made their push to the playoffs.

Teams like the Arizona Sundogs bring to mind Jason Cohen’s Zamboni Rodeo – ice hockey and the Wild West – which oddly enough makes a great pairing. The Central Hockey League (CHL) is wild and wooly, brash and constantly in your face. It is one of those brazen, bigger than life hockey leagues – hockey coupled with entertainment and just a bit more than the usual zaniness. Take the Denver Cutthroats for instance. Not too long ago this very season the team was short a player due to injuries and the coach suited up to play, while one of the players coached. As for the Arizona Sundogs, what really made them stand out this season was their transformation since February and their hardnosed push to the playoffs. Wild West hockey combined with a bit of heart.

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Needing One Point, The Barons Get Two, Beat Heat 7-3

Barons Beat Heat
Barons beating the Heat. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

Needing just one point to officially clinch a playoff spot in the Calder Cup postseason, the Barons manhandled the Abbtosford Heat at the Cox Center on Saturday night. The low scoring game the night before fueled a heated statement towards the end of Friday’s affair. The rosters for both teams, 24 hours later, reflected a potential carryover of angst. For starters, Darcy Hordichuk and Be Eager played left and right to Tanner House’s center. We’ve seen this configuration before, but only in the event that punishing blows were needed, and that hasn’t been often. Those three would get heavy time on ice to start the game, and they were able to give a statement early even if that statement wasn’t entirely clear.

The Barons did something on Saturday that they couldn’t on Friday, and that’s score early. But it wasn’t just early scoring that resurrected a Barons eventual victory, it was the frequency of the scoring.

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Oklahoma City Inching Closer To Playoffs, Beat Abbotsford 1-0

Rough stuff, Abbotsford Heat
Rough. Stuff. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

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.

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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.

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Justin Schultz Named Defenseman Of The Year In AHL

AHL Hockey: Oct 28 Barons vs Stars
What a player. Photo by Steven Christy.

Another day, another AHL award for Justin Schultz. This time around it’s the AHL Defenseman of the Year Award which is named after Eddie Shore. The remarkable nature of the Schultzian AHL half-season is in just how many points he accrued in such a short time. 48 points in 34 games is still the most by any defender in the league. Ironically enough, those totals are just shy of the amount put forth by Edmond, Oklahoma native, Matt Donovan, who’s playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. His totals are 46 points in 72 games, which is more than twice the number of games played by Schultz. Unreal.

And the season marches on for young Schultz, now with the Edmonton Oilers. But we’ll always look fondly on this incredibly dominate performance as one for the ages. Congrats, Badger.

Official Release, with some great insights I might add:

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz was named the winner of the Eddie Shore Award as American Hockey League Defenseman of the Year, the league’s front office announced today.

After three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Schultz, a 6-2, 185-pounder from Kelowna, B.C signed with Edmonton last summer, but began the season with Oklahoma City.  His impact with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate was immediate.  He played in 34 games with the Barons and scored 48 points (18-30-48).  That included a franchise record-tying 10-game point-scoring streak and a separate nine-game point-scoring streak.

Despite not playing in Oklahoma City since January 5, Schultz’ 48 points, 18 goals and 19.6 percent shooting percentage is still tops among AHL rearguards.  Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ defenseman Matt Donovan is second in the league with 46 points (14-42-46) in 72 games.  He did much of his scoring for the Barons on special teams.  Of his 48 points, 25 of them (7-18-25) came with the man advantage.  Heading into the last weekend of the season for the Barons, Schultz’ 25 power-play points still leads the team.  Mark Arcobello is second on the club with 24 power-play points (6-18-24).  Schultz also accounted for two of the Barons five short-handed goals on the season.This marks the third postseason award that Schultz has earned.  He was named to the All Rookie Team and was named a First Team AHL All Star last week.  He also earned CCM / AHL Player of the Month honors for the month of October, CCM / AHL Rookie of the Month honors for the month of November.
Schultz is the first rookie in the 55-year history of the Eddie Shore Award to earn the honor.  With the Oilers, Schultz has continued his solid play.  Through 42 games this season, he is the top scoring rearguard on the team with 21 points (6-15-21). 

Brandon Davidson Given Fred T. Hunter Award By AHL

OKC Barons Brandon Davidson came back from testicular cancer tonight. My wife made a 15' sign for him. - Imgur
Photo/Artwork by Aaron & Candace Riley. All rights reserved.

In the early parts of November, the Oilers/Barons contingent of hockey fans were solely focused on what was to be a dominate AHL farm team. No NHL meant that the A team came to the B team for a memorable season (eventually half-season) where Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Justin Schultz performed feats of size and strength. But things took a human interest turn when it was announced that Brandon Davidson was diagnosed with testicular cancer (strangely enough on the first day of the team’s promotion of Movember, for men’s health).

The world of hockey faded away, and suddenly this moment trumped all others, as it should have. Yet Davidson’s determination, along with his family’s, forever won the hearts of Oilers nation from Oklahoma City and beyond. His situation was real. It was important. It was critical.

Davidson entered treatment, and that would have been fine enough. Instead he overcame the cancer, hit his target return date of early February, and has since put the disease in his rear-view mirror.

It’s a touching story because it hits home for a lot of people. Overcoming an huge obstacle in the physical realm takes an equal beating on the mental realm. But the laser sharp forcus of Brandon Davidson made this the most important story of the year in the entire AHL.

The American Hockey League has chosen to honor Brandon Davidson with the Fred T. Hunter Memorial Award which is given annually to a player who exemplifies sportsmanship, integrity, dedication, and determination. This is an award given to Davidson by his teammates, by foes, by coaches, by media, and by management – the process always seemed to point to Davidson’s enduring attitude of confidence.

In the early throws of treatment, he was determined to end the disease:

“Basically it’s just one round,” Davidson said. “It’s a reassurance that it won’t come back so we can put this thing to rest and get back to hockey. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. Basically this was the best opportunity for me to put this thing to sleep and move on.”

His teammates supported him by shaving their heads. This act of solidarity meant the world to Brandon:

“He’s not only my teammate he’s my roommate,” said Taylor Fedun, a teammate who shaved his head. “He’s had a great attitude all along. I wanted to let him know he has my support.

And through it all, Davidson was a true champion of the fans – giving back his emotional thanks for those that cheered him on. His valiant efforts, both on and off the ice, have placed Davidson among the tops in the league in important narratives of the seasons. But it’s not the disease that defined him, but rather his staunch admiration for killing it off. I’m proud to have known him, and anxious to watch him grow as a player and as an all around inspirational young man.

Workin’ For The Weekend (Tuesday Edition): Marlies Moment “One Way Or Another”

blondie 78 2
Blondie, circa 1978. How great were these guys?

It was bound to happen. Blondie would get some love on this site dedicated to 80’s themed game previews. What began as an outfit of punk rock glossiness, eventually moved to a pop/rock sound with a very iconic frontwoman in Deborah Harry. Her bleached hair, her sensational anti-type poise, and her wicked vocal range made her the face of anti, but established punk/pop/rock/new wave for a better part of the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Playing at CBGB regularly, the band hit its full stride with the 1977 classic, Parallel Lines. On that album were “Heart Of Glass”, “Sunday Girl”, “Hanging On The Telephone”, and of course, “One Way Or Another”.

That final track, which actually appeared on side one, was sandwiched between “Telephone” and “Picture This” – a fantastic threesome. The almost punch beginning, the driving rock anthem, followed by a slower torch moment – it’s a fabulous opening to an album.

“One Way Or Another” is simplistic in nature both lyrically and musically. But the heart of the song is disturbing. For three fourths of the song it’s a lustful moment for the main character. “I’m gonna find ya”, “I’m gonna see ya”, “I’m gonna win ya”, “I’m gonna get ya”, all evoke a creepy longing. But by the time the third verse swells you realize that this has reached stalker tendencies. That perhaps the one doing the seeking is also trying to avoid the seeking. A game of cat and mouse that likely mimics the songwriter, Harry herself, and the painfully awkward relationships she endured, but also sought out. But the sentiment remains simple.

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