It was inevitable that things would get persnickety in the Western Conference Finals of the American Hockey League, and indeed they did on Wednesday night. The Oklahoma City Barons would come out swinging for the fences as they’d unload three straight goals in the first period to stun a Grand Rapids team headed towards frustration. Winning 4-1, the Oklahoma City Barons were clearly the better team, in spite of some nasty play by both squads.
Taylor Fedun would have an incredible shift early in the game, as he’d carry the puck through center ice from blue line to blue line, shoot the puck, only to have it blocked by Petr Mrazek. He then whacked at his own rebound, and it entered the net. It was immediately ruled a high stick and the goal was waved off, but it primed the pump for the Barons on the offensive side of their game.
After some really terrible puck moving by the Griffins, Ben Eager would intercept an errant pass, lumber down the ice, and take a hard shot of desperation at Mrazek. It would go in, and in the first seven minutes of the game, the Barons would own a 1-0 lead. It was another poor pass by a Grand Rapids defender that earned Josh Green his fourth goal of the postseason a minute after the first, and before the halfway mark of the first period, the Barons had a nice 2-0 lead. Grand Rapids caught a break when Antti Tyrvainen committed a high sticking penalty. However, it would quickly be negated as Riley Sheahan gave up an interference penalty, and the teams were to play around eighty seconds of four on four hockey. In the final four minutes of the period, Brandon Davidson would make one heckuva pass to Philippe Cornet who danced free of a defender and parked himself to Mrazek’s left. He’d punch in a goal, and the Barons would take a commanding 3-0 lead to the endfirst twenty minutes of play.
The final forty minutes were vastly different for both teams. The rough stuff began to emerge, as it does when the Barons play the Griffins, but it ended up helping no one’s cause. Ben Eager instigated a fight with former Baron Triston Grant. Along the way he dropped the “F” bomb in the general direction of a zebra, and it cost him a game misconduct, abuse of an official penalty, which is serious business in the minors. Two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting, ten for instigating misconduct, and ten for abuse of an official. What created the fuss was Grant taking OKC’s Tanner House up against the boards, and out cold on the ice. Eager, sticking up for his teammate, sorta took things to another level. House would lay motionless on the briefly, the stretcher came out to take him off the ice, and we all held our breathe. It appeared to be a near-head-shot that perhaps hit House just square enough to knock the wind out of his sails. Either way, scary moment, and scary hit. For the remainder of the period things continued to get heated as both teams cross checked, roughed, and fought their way through the final minutes. This, of course, carried over to the third period where the Griffins would eventually score a goal of their own, this time on the power play. But it came with under five minutes remaining, and with the Barons clearly in the drivers seat.
Jonathan Cheechoo would tack on an empty net goal, and the Barons would defeat the Griffins, 4-1 to take a 2-1 series lead.
The Grand Rapids Griffins are absolutely frustrated, and rightfully so. What they’ve done well in the postseason, the Barons have kept them from doing. Shot totals are low because the Barons defenders are charging the puck. Defensemen are making wild mistakes because the Barons are forechecking like a boss. Mrazek has lost a bit of swagger because the Barons are intimidating with the puck. In all, the rough stuff from Grant emerged because the Griffs are seven shades of frustrated. What a magnificent job Todd Nelson and company are doing each and every night to continue to force opponents to be frustrated. OKC might end this one quickly if Grand Rapids isn’t careful. After game three, they are in more trouble than maybe they realize.
Triston Grant does something every once in a while to remind you that he’s Triston Grant. You sorta find ways to love him when he’s on your team, but the moment he leaves the payroll you hate everything about the way he plays the game. He’s a bad boy, plain and simple. He’s been trying to ruffle the Barons feathers over the duration of the first two games, and when those advances went unsuccessful, he stepped it up about two notches. The board on Tanner House might be a suspendable offense, and Nelson has apparently turned video proof over to the league. You’d imagine a suspension would be coming prior to Friday, but we’ll wait and see. For now, we await official word on Tanner House and hope for the best. You’ll recall, he’s battled concussion issues before, and this is just another chapter in that painful journey.
Six shots in the first. Six shots in the second. That’s a gold star for the OKC Barons defenders who’ve managed to block shots, and push the Griffins into a half-ice offense. No team has done that with regularity this season against the Red Wings farm team, and OKC has been tremendously successful in this one facet of the game. Keep it up.