Wins vs. Development, Which Do You Prefer (It Depends)?

AHL Hockey: May 15 Barons vs Stars
Rajala arms. Photo by Steven Christy.

Craig MacTavish is making tidal wave statements these days. Between Hemsky and Horcoff, alignment of farm with NHL club, and swift coaching changes, he’s a man on a mission. These statements, made in a week’s time, are perhaps more potent than anything Steve Tambellini uttered in his years as GM of the Oilers.

I’ll land softly on one of his directives, and that’s the placement of players on the farm. Todd Nelson, maybe to a fault, found value in a well balanced roster that earned wins and aided prospects. In that balance, he found great success in terms of winning percentages. That’s been great for OKC, its fans, and likely the players contained on its roster. But could it be that winning actually worked in reverse for Todd Nelson? Did it hurt the prospect growth of players on the farm? The new Oilers GM might think so. Let’s discuss.

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Dallas Eakins Over Todd Nelson, What To Make Of It All

In Todd We Trust. Photo by Steven Christy.

At the time of Ralph Krueger’s hiring as the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, I quickly saw the subsequent re-up of Oklahoma City Barons coach, Todd Nelson, to be nothing more than a promise. A promise that he’d continue to be a big part of shaping the young players on the farm in Oklahoma City, and perhaps a chance to take the helm of the Oilers if Krueger didn’t pan out. Krueger was a good man. His decisions weren’t perfect (I’m with the majority of fans on the placement of Yak being the strangest thing). He got one half-season. He didn’t pan out. Now he’s done. A year ago, had you told me this would unfold, I would have told you that A) no way Steve Tambellini is still calling the shots when this went down, and B) Todd Nelson would get first crack at the head coaching job in the NHL. I would have been fifty percent correct.

It appears that in the coming hours Dallas Eakins will be named the new head man in the Edmonton Oilers locker room, thus posing quite the predicament for Todd Nelson, and perhaps the Oklahoma City Barons.

Nelson and Eakins have been in some incredible head-to-head coaching battles in the last three seasons. Whether it was Linus Omark scoring six goals in one game, or a quest for a spot in the Calder Cup Finals, the familiarity between the two runs deep. Although the Marlies own the head-to-head wins, each one of those games was highly entertaining, and featured some really headstrong coaching decisions.

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Fame, Success, & Knowing The Difference Between The Two

Barons Hugs
Success Hugs. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

George Harrison, now known as the quiet Beatle, spoke one of the greatest quotes I’ve ever heard, and one that goes often unrecognized. A man who had every reason to be jilted by the super group that formed around his childhood friends, instead would become a pillar of stability when the ego’s of the one to his left and the one to his right bubbled to a boiling point. I’ve often wondered if the Beatles remained in tact simply because Harrison was there. His presence, his commitment, his unbridled desire to be the best he could be – he was more than just the quiet Beatle, he was a leader.

He said this, at the height of his bands popularity.

I wanted to be successful, no famous.

Believe it or not, there is a difference between those two things, and George knew this.

Success is simply defined as the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose. By stark contrast, fame is about being well known. Breaking those two words down causes you to understand what Harrison was committed to in his professional life. His goal was to be the best guitarist, songwriter, bandmate he could be. His success was measured by how well he accomplished those goals rather than how many records he wrote or how many fans he attained. Along the way, yes, he became famous, but that was secondary to honing his craft according to the parameters he had set forth. Success was the goal.

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Memorable Game Seven Ends In Defeat For OKC, Postseason Done

Hate this photo. Photo by Mark Newman.

It was a remarkable run for the Oklahoma City Barons the last six weeks. Unfortunately for the baby Oilers they’d lose game seven of the West Finals to the Grand Rapids Griffins, thus ending their postseason tear through the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. Two seasons, two West Finals – the OKC Barons, and coaching staff, have put together two highly memorable seasons of minor league hockey. This will stand as a remarkable feat in and of itself. However, last night’s game seven was a memorable one, and it ended with high drama as only the best game sevens can do.

The recap, some thoughts, and may more feelings to be posted here in the next few weeks.

The eye-rolls and out-loud sighs began quickly as Jan Mursak knocked in the first goal of the game for the Griffins in the first 54 seconds.. It set the tone for the next five minutes of playoff hockey, but the Barons amped up their pace and after giving up that first goal early, scored twice about twelve minutes later. Chris VandeVelde and Teemu Hartikainen were the gift givers, and OKC would take a two goals to one lead. Just when things were coming up all blue and orange, a goofy C.J. Stretch hooking penalty allowed Tomas Tatar to even the score in the final five minutes of the opening frame. The first period would end with a 2-2 game.

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Oklahoma City Barons Complete Monstrous Comeback, Force Game 7

Hugs. Photo by Mark Newman.

Game six felt like a farewell expedition into the Congo. There was luggage (and baggage). There were sweaty, bearded men. There were mythological creatures to be seen. There were grand statements made. The dark, twisy, and sometimes frightening turns down the way were littered with stories of conquers and conquests. But as the sun faded the river came to life, and suddenly things didn’t look so pristine and beautiful. What lurked in the distance was far more frightening than one could imagine. Off in the distance, there it was, a hockey team poised to steal game six away from the team that had buried them in two straight games prior. Through the muck and the mire they emerged victorious. They’d score three goals in the final eleven minutes of regulation. We’d marvel at their achievement, cheer their progress, and remember not their indiscretions.

On Tuesday night, down three games to two, the Oklahoma City Barons would defeat the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3 to force a game seven. A GAME SEVEN!

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Who Are You & What Have You Done With My OKC Barons?

AHL Hockey: Jun 02 Barons vs Griffins
Close, but not close enough. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

Has the magical mystery tour of Oklahoma City dominance come to an end? Momentarily, yes. The Barons, although not my pick to win the West (I picked Toronto), have continually impressed everyone from fans to writers to coaches and everyone in between. It has felt like a team that was destined to win, and win they have. Just when the team seems unbeatable they go out, lay two eggs, squander momentum, look lifeless, and are pressed up against the wall. Two games against Grand Rapids in two days equaled two sucking-air-out-of-a-beach-ball moments for an OKC squad that has impressed around every turn.

So the question needs to be asked, “Who are you, and what have you done with my Oklahoma City Barons?”

The answer is multifaceted and not exact, but worth pointing out. I’ll give it the old college try.

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Again No Goals For OKC, Again Another Loss To Grand Rapids

Face Wash Griffins
Glove sandwich, yum. Photo by Rob Ferguson.

The Oklahoma City Barons had managed to not be shutout for the duration of two Calder Cup Playoff rounds. They’d proven that they had weapons of mass construction, who constantly bettered themselves through the month of May. Yet June has begun with two straight losses, and two straight shutouts. On Saturday night the Grand Rapids Griffins again kept the Barons off the scoreboard beating them soundly, 3-0, and taking a 3-2 series lead before heading back to Michigan for the final two games (if necessary).

The storyline is very familiar to that of the game less than 24 hours prior. Special teams. The Barons went 0/6 on the power play which is anything but special, and seemingly let the Griffins have their way in neutral ice resulting in a sad-sack penalty kill. Grand Rapids would score a short-hander and a power play goal to complete the special teams double play. Even an overly aggressive spear by Tomas Tatar that gave the OKC Barons two minutes on the power play to begin the third period…just wasn’t going to happen.

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Game Four Goes To Grand Rapids, OKC Dumbfounded By NHLers

Mrazek Goaltender
Petr says, “Not Today”. Photo by Rob Ferguson

In the first three games of the series, Oklahoma City won two games and Grand Rapids one. In those three games it was the Barons that outscored the hot hot offensive-minded Griffins nine goals to five. They owned the goaltending battle, the puck possession, the shot totals, etc., etc. In game four things were vastly different.

After a postponed Friday night game (moved to Sunday) due to weather and flooding, the Oklahoma City Barons were dumbfounded in the wake of Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson being re-assigned to the Griffins. The home team would lose 4-0, and the series would be tied 2-2.

Three periods, four goals, two on the power play, and some other-worldly play by Nyquist, Andersson, and goaltender Peter Mrazek were more than the Barons could take. The first goal of the evening, a dandy of a series by Andersson, resulted in a mid-period 1-0 lead by the Griffs. The Barons, increasingly tentative defensively, allowed two more in the middle period at even strength to look bland and lifeless after dominating Grand Rapids in the previous two games.

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