Game three of the American Hockey League Western Conference Finals is tonight in Oklahoma City. Amid a week and then some of a high-focus on tornado recover and cleanup, the beginning of normal life (as normal as it can be) is a welcome sight. Barons, fans, and the entire city have focused on Wednesday, May 29th for many reasons, but mainly because serving those ravaged by destruction has become the Oklahoma thing to do (how fantastic is that).
Tonight, in downtown Oklahoma City, with Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert hosting a sold out Chesapeake Arena a stones throw from the Cox Center, the Barons will host the Grand Rapids Griffins for a night of momentum seizing fun. Here are the nuts and bolts of that game.
First off, let me declare my love for the stretch pass. Headmanning the puck, long bomb, outlet pass – call it what you like, just don’t call it unsuccessful for the OKC Barons. In an attempt to move the puck very quickly, Coach Todd Nelson has been very high on the need to stretch the pass up the ice. This has done two things. One – it’s caused speedy teams to be caught off guard when they over commit offensively. Guys like Taylor Fedun and Martin Marincin have made it their mission from God to push that puck up the ice quickly. Akin to the outlet pass in basketball, when a Baron gets the puck (moving from defense to offense) they are instantly looking for an outlet on the boards. It’s worked, the Griffins have been the most successful team in the postseason in thwarting it, yet it continues to be something that has given opponents fits.
Second, Jonathan Cheechoo. At least four times in game two he drew a penalty that put his team on the power play. This is huge for him. I’ve often proclaimed him a goal scorer’s goal scorer, but he’s done things this postseason that are un-Cheechoo like mainly out of necessity. His point totals are pretty solid (2G,6A), but that’s nowhere near the pace he’s accustom to. I’m fine with that. Defensively smart, protective of his linemates, aware of them on the ice, coaching-from-the-sidelines – he’s a keeper. So I’ll go ahead and drop the hint. If Cheechoo is up for signing an AHL-only deal (even for two years) I’d seize that in a heartbeat. If he’s willing to shed the gun-for-hire mentality, he’d be a nice vet piece for a couple of seasons. Consider this, Bill Scott.
Third, Randy Jones is a +14. That’s right, the guy everyone thought would be a bust has been the ONE shutdown defender worth discussing in the postseason. With Colten Teubert riding the eternal pine at this point, Randy has been asked to do a lot, and that includes killing penalties, closing down gifted offensive players, and add just a bit of toughness and moxie to get the job done. He’s quietly been a key ingredient to success. Well done.
Fourth, huge attaboy to the Barons for offering free game tickets to those impacted by the tornadoes in Oklahoma. Also, the game is virtually free to attend with a donation of $10, and that’s fantastic. All proceeds from the game go directly to the United Way OK Strong Relief Fund. This. Is. Fabulous.
I mentioned the Blake Shelton concert taking place across the street AT THE EXACT SAME TIME as the Barons/Griffs Game three. Hear me when I say this, that concert will do a lot of good. Sold out in about thirty minutes, the relief concert (also televised) will give back a ton of money to this state. That’s awesome. Heart says YEAH!, brain says THE BARONS CAN’T GET AN ATTENDANCE BREAK. That, of course, is secondary to helping people, but still, tough goings.
It’s going to be a great game. Three straight in OKC is exactly what the doctor ordered in the series versus Texas, and hopefully that remains the antidote. But don’t be surprised if Grand Rapids, with a bit more rest, doesn’t turn on the afterburners. I think we are due a high scoring affair. Watch out.