The Oilers Call On Tyler Pitlick, First NHL Minutes Forthcoming

After two semi-bad seasons of hockey on the farm, Edmonton Oilers draft pick Tyler Pitlick, is finally proving that hard work does indeed pay off. Call it positioning or perhaps desperation, but either way, Pitlick has been a different animal both in Oilers training camp, and with the Oklahoma City Barons in the first seven games of the season.

Announced today, he will travel to join the Edmonton Oilers to help fill in the gap of one, Taylor Hall (Smyth and Eberle absent from skate this morning as well) who suffered a goofy knee injury in Ottawa this weekend. That’s a lot to ask of a player, and there aren’t enough band aids or call ups in the world to heal that gap.

Official announcement:

Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins confirmed that the team will recall forward Tyler Pitlick from the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League.

This is Pitlick’s first-career NHL call up, that comes after a strong camp and pre-season in Edmonton that continued down in OKC. He has been slotted in on the Barons top forward line with Linus Omark and Anton Lander. He has a goal and two assists in seven games.

The call up comes on the heels of a practice in which both Jordan Eberle and Ryan Smyth did not skate with the team.

Nonetheless, this is a big day for young Tyler. Having played well over a hundred games for the Oklahoma City Barons, he finally turned the corner towards becoming a very good player…maybe. Seven games this season has earned him a goal and two assists, and even on an offensively skinny OKC Barons team, he’s managed to capitalize on several offensive moments across those games.

He’s played on a first line exclusively with Anton Lander at center, and Linus Omark on the left. Those three, arguably, are the best wingers the Barons have in their possession.

In his absence, the Barons might want to take an AHL looksee at Chase Schaber, who’s currently playing in Bakersfield. He looked good in AHL camp, was sent to the ECHL rather late, and has been good in only a few games played (the ECHL season starts a tad later). He’s worth a call up to OKC.

I’ll let the Oilers writers deal with his placement, but I think Tyler shows well. The Oilers play in Montreal tomorrow, and that is going to be a test of intestinal fortitude for Pitlick, who has been asked to be a “heavy checking forward”. Good luck Tyler. Go get ’em.

Oklahoma City Barons Split Weekend Series With Abbotsford Heat

Photo by Steven Christy

Two games. Two different outcomes. Still the wobbly Barons that we’ve seen for the better part of two weeks. Abbotsford, and their youthful core, gave the Barons a run for their money twice this weekend. OKC was able to overcome the odds in one game, but lose the other in the closing minutes of regulation (and a SO).

In game one, the Barons scored twice in both the first and second periods. Along the way the power play went 2/3 while the kill was absolutely perfect. Omark was responsible for two goals, and assisted on the other two. After Derek Nesbitt and Anton Lander added the final two goals of the game for OKC in the first five minutes of the second period, from that point forward it was all Abbotsford Heat. They’d run hot, scoring three straight goals, one on the power play, and giving Barons goaltender Richard Bachman 22 shots in the final period. Bachman played well, considering, but it was pretty clear that he was getting no help. However, the cushion was so large for OKC, that Abbotsford was unable to complete the comeback, and the Barons win 4-3

Game two was vastly different, and perhaps a bit more defensively strong. The Barons came out limp, shooting the puck only five times in the first period, but again it was Richard Bachman that played well enough to keep his team above water. A very late second period goal by Joel Broda gave the Barons the lead to start the third period. Just when it appeared that OKC was going to hang on for the victory, Abbotsford scored with the goalie pull with :39 remaining in the game. Abbotsford would win in a shootout, the Barons would lose a winnable game, and they would have to deal with the fact that there are some pretty major issues with the club.

Friday the Barons went 2/3 on the power play, things looked good. Saturday night, they went 0/6. The predictable nature of how this power play is running is pretty glaring. It’s going to be a problem from this point forward.

The Barons get a few days off, and then play three games in a span of four days including a Wednesday tilt against the suddenly red hot, Texas Stars. The final two games of the weekend are against the San Antonio Rampage. All three games are on the road. The test begins.

Workin’ For The Weekend: Abbotsford Heat at Oklahoma City Barons “Kidney Bingos”

The progression of 70’s punk bands to the post-punk age of the early 80’s was a treacherous time for most groups. I’ve often wondered if those groups, and more specifically their individual parts, realized that the burgenoing punk scene was, and always will be, a young man’s game. The great tragedy is that in order for the the sound to transform, they would have to step out of the way. This has often been said of film directors. Even the greats realize that there is a season of boundary pushing, and there is a season where someone else other than you does it.

One of the unheralded bands of the late 70’s and 80’s was Wire. The English foursome was influential in every way – lyrically, musically, asthetically – and then they changed. It was okay, because the time had come, and they were to move on.

The threesome of Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154 are about as fierce a punk rock outing as they come. Mixing blues and punk were their specialty, and this would haunt their catalog long after their prime.

Flash forward to 1988, and the EP Kidney Bingos. Let’s be honest, this is a weird song. It just is. The lyrics are probably metaphorical in nature, but only the author really knows what that metaphor is, and then you realize the jokes on you. To embrace Wire is to embrace a sound, a vibe, a musical expression that is different, yet familiar.

The song, “Kidney Bingos”, was a far cry from the punk of the 70’s that Wire had become well known for. They softened. Again, age does that to you. And with this late 80’s torch ballad with punk lyrics attached, you can really draw meaning as you see fit.

Two consecutive, hard-fought, well-earned wins for the Barons on the season, and suddenly it feels like Oklahoma City hockey has meaning. It is taking shape in front of us…maybe. It’s still early, and like Wire, the season progresses with age, softens, and looks more like the comfort zone we fans have grown to love. The sweet spot if you will. A two-game tangle with Abbotsford means the thickening of the skin continues. And, please, don’t play kidney bingo, that sounds painful.

Oh those Abbotsford Heat folk. Not quite a rivalry (although the Oilers/Flames tendencies for rivalry are there), but always a spitting contest, when the Heat and the Barons square off it’s usually a doozy.

The truth is that the series has long been one sided. The Heat and Barons have faced each other sixteen times. OKC has won twelve of those outings. Ironically, the Barons have owned them on Abbotsford ice (7-1), and been slightly less successful on OKC ice (5-3). But don’t be fooled, these are always games with a cantankerous spirit.

The Heat are quietly sitting in first place in the re-configured West Division, but realize that two teams have yet to play four games prior to Friday. That’s not to discredit the Heat. A three goal victory on opening night against Lake Erie, a loss to Erie the next night, an overtime victory Milwaukee, and finally a shoot-out loss to Milwaukee have begun the Heat on a spiral towards temporary stardom.

Having graduated a wholebuncha players post-lockout, the Flames are looking to reload from within. Roman Horak stands out as a familiar face, but the addition of collegiate forwards and such has the Heat looking vastly different to the club we watched a year ago. Three rookies currently pave the way in points scored. Ben Hanowski, a former Penguins prospect, Josh Jooris from Union College, and Corban Knight, a U. of North Dakota grad, have surged to the front of the pack in the early throws of the AHL season.

Defensively, they are young and inexperienced, and sometimes that is a deadly combination. Not knowing what to expect can be a challenge. Joni Ortio and Reto Berra aren’t household names, but they’ll do the heavy lifting in net. Thus far we have seen Berra in all four games, and he’s made 112 saves with a percentage of .933. He is one to watch.

Defensively the batch of noobs is led by familiar foe, Mark Cundari (formerly of formerly Peoria). Like Oklahoma City, the Heat’s NHL counter part is banking on the good play of the youngsters in the AHL to one day equal NHL pay dirt. Again, like Oklahoma City, we’ll see.

Speaking of Oklahoma City, they are ready to go. After a pretty heady win in OT on Tuesday night, they’ve rested, practiced, and remained at home while they awaited Abbotsford Heat this weekend.

No updates on Ryan Martindale, but the going thought is that he is still nursing that knee injury, and thus Joel Broda stays with the team. Broda, recently signed via PTO from Bakersfield, wasn’t all that terrible in his first game as a Baron. Martindale is probably the upgrade, but Broda will do.

In the meantime, I can envision a split of the goaltenders this weekend with Bachman on Friday and Roy on Saturday. Coming off a really nice performance on Tuesday, Richard can continue to win fans with his smart positioning and quick glove. Roy too can make some headway.

Defensively the Barons are still jam packed nightly with picks to enter the lineup. The defensive core has been a bit awkward at times, but we are starting to slowly see them gel. The same goes for the forward lines, but it is certainly more noticeable in the game-to-game pairings. Klefbom is improving. Marincin is still wildly up and down. Fedun and Davidson appear to be taking the next step. Gernat and Musil continue to be serious works in progress. Regardless, two games against another youthfully exuberant team might be what this group needs to test the waters.

Both games are at the Cox Center in downtown Oklahoma City. Friday and Saturday games begin roughly at 7:00pm, so make plans on be their early. Bring a friend. Have a great time.

Iowa Wild Weekend of Hockey

Driving over eight hours to Des Moines for another team’s inaugural opening? You betcha!! It might sound a bit crazy, but the newly formed Iowa Wild — the former Houston Aeros — hold a spot dear in my heart as a fierce competitive rival of the OKC Barons for the past three seasons. Many of the players were familiar, but almost everything else has changed and that intrigued me, along with the Wild’s new coach Kurt Kleinendorst who will be fascinating to follow this season.

From Oklahoma the trip led me north on I-35 straight up the Kansas Turnpike to Topeka through some spectacular stretches of tall and short grass prairie. From Topeka the  journey took a quick jog dead east over to Kansas City, Missouri and then straight north to Des Moines. As the miles tick off you pass acres and acres of cornfields – and now in October the fields are dried and brown, crisp and brittle in the brilliant Fall sun. And as you will see from my photos below, I took a short trip off of I-35 to visit Madison County, famed for their covered bridges and for Winterset, the birthplace of Western film legend John Wayne. It was well worth the time and the off-road dirt on a clean vehicle.

Opening night of the Iowa Wild team’s inaugural season was everything I could have imagined — pyrotechnics, loud music, and a pumped up enthusiastic crowd of more than 10,000 in the large, modern Wells Fargo Arena. Talking to fans seated around us, there was a nice mix from Iowa’s home town of Des Moines and Minneapolis, just a short drive north. Minneapolis Wild fans are close enough to easily attend one of their farm team home games and they were incredibly happy to have the team nearby after all these years. And while it is always sad to see a fanbase lose a team — Houston Aeros fans are heartbroken over the loss of their team — Iowa Wild fans have welcomed the team with open arms and great respect.

I would return to Des Moines in a heartbeat to watch the Wild in action once again to see them face one of their new northern division rivals. The arena is excellent, the fans hospitable and welcoming, and the city of Des Moines offers numerous nice restaurants and pubs in the downtown area. And I highly recommend a few side trips off the interstate on your journey north! As a firm believer in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “Life is a journey, not a destination,” a journey, even to a hockey game, has infinite possibilities.

Next up, a roadtrip to the southeast with sunshine, seafood, beaches and don’t forget the hockey! Yes, there’s hockey in Florida!

Neal’s recaps of the weekend’s games:

Saturday, October 12, 2013 —  OKC Barons 0 – 1 Iowa Wild

Sunday, October 13, 2013 — OKC Barons 4 – 2 Iowa Wild



Oklahoma City Wins In Overtime Thanks To Linus Omark

Photo by Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

Tuesday night in Bricktown brought about a lot of hockey problems for Barons fans. The Thunder preseasoner across the street, the team being less than perfection to start the season, a few injuries, and the Texas Stars in town for 60 minutes of fun – it was bound to be problematic. Indeed, at times, it was. The Texas Stars are bigger, stronger, and faster, but it was the Barons that would overcome all these odds to win the game in overtime thanks to Sir Linus Omark

The first period would be a scoreless, but interesting period for both squads. Starting goaltenders, Richard Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp were as stingy as they could have been. But it was Texas that had the edge in chances, shots, and overall momentum. Twice the Barons gave them a power play opportunity, but the OKC kill was superb. A later period power play chance for the Barons would carry over into the second period, and the first twenty minutes would end in a 0-0 tie. Shots favored Texas by one, 10-9.

With the Travis Morin holding penalty carrying over from the first period, the Barons would get the first goal of the evening. Andrew Miller, notching his first of his pro career, would put OKC out in front. Credit C.J. Stretch with a solid assist on the play as well. Less than twenty seconds after the goal, typical NHL defender, Aaron Rome, would board Linus Omark, and instantly put the Barons back on the power play. They’d have brief chances, but nothing substantial. The bigger issue was the gimpy Omark, who remained on the bench for several shifts. However, he would return, and would be huge to end the game. The penalty kill would eventually end the night with a perfect 0-4 record, and that might have been one of the unsung story lines of the game.

The third period arrived, and immediately Texas found some life. Colton Sceviour, scoring his second of the season, beat Richard Bachman for the lone Stars goal of the game. The Barons apparently learned their lesson from the goal, and would batten down the hatches only allowing the Stars to take three shots to the Barons sixteen (yes you read that correctly). Two minor penalties in the last ten minutes for the Stars would be the greatest gift the Barons received all night. Again, Aaron Rome would take a penalty, it would carryover into the overtime frame, and as time expired on the man advantage for OKC, Linus Omark did something nice. A dangling, moverific goal beat Nilstorp to seal the deal. The Barons defeated the Texas Stars, 2-1, in overtime.

OKC Lines, Pairs, Tender:




Larsen Down, Jones Up, Zucker Suspended Two

Photo by Steven Christy. All rights reserved. 

The early afternoon hours have been busy for the Edmonton Oilers and the Oklahoma City Barons.

Dallas Eakins, prepping for a tangle with the Pittsburgh Penguins this evening, mentioned that Phil Larsen had been sent back down to Oklahoma City, and that the team had recalled Ryan Jones. The swap is nothing more than a needs based approach to managing, and quite frankly, probably does very little to make either team better.

Larsen, however, scored a goal and an assist in his two appearances with the Barons to start the season. This came at a time when no one was scoring goals, so his return, and potential offense (who knew?) are welcomed.

On the flip side, Ryan Jones also had contributed greatly to the Barons. Playing in all four Barons games including the two most recent in Iowa, Jones has notched two goals, and managed to remain at a respectable -2 all things considered.

Again, neither transaction makes either team that much better, but we will see.

Another tidbit is the suspension of Jason Zucker. The head hit on Linus Omark on Sunday seemed pretty nasty, and indeed the league has responded by giving him (nothing official as of yet), a two-game suspension.

via Michael Russo

Regardless of whether or not you think it’s too much or too little, this is on par with a typical AHL suspension where no injury occurred. We move on.

Joel Broda Signs PTO With Barons; Martindale Likely Out

Today the Oklahoma City Barons announced that left shooting centerman, Joel Broda, has been signed to a PTO. Broda, who was in OKC training camp in the preseason, was shipped to Bakersfield of the ECHL only a few short weeks ago. He played in two of the three preseason games for the Condors, and notched one goal.

The signing of Broda points to a larger issue for Oklahoma City, and that’s the knee of Ryan Martindale. Ryan, having undergone successful knee surgery last season, seemingly can’t catch a break when it comes to the joint that ails him the most. Let’s hope the injury is minor.

With Martindale likely being out (maybe Lander too; no report on his lower body issue), my first thought was to place Andrew Miller back at center. You’ll recall that the Oilers/Barons have placed the Yalee on the wings, where he’s had some pretty good success. The Oilers management wants him where they want him, and that will probably be on the wing. Perhaps, also, Martindale’s injury is more long-term in nature (weeks instead of games). Again, let’s hope the injury is minor.

Toni Rajala signs in Sweden

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.

Former Oklahoma City Barons forward Toni Rajala has finally signed with a team for this season, with HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League. The news comes after the Edmonton Oilers agreed to a mutual termination of his contract during this past offseason. Rajala joins former AHLers Riley Holzapfel, Jason Krog, Brett Sterling, and current Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach – on loan to the team for a three-week tryout.

A great skater and hockey mind, Rajala is a big piece of the puzzle that Oklahoma City is missing this season, and it’s shown during the first four games of the AHL season. While the Barons found some scoring this past Sunday, there hasn’t been that one clear-cut player that the team is able to rely on for offense. Not to say that things would have been drastically different if Rajala was on the Barons roster, but that expectation was certainly there following last season’s performance.

It’s great to see Toni back on the ice this season, after some comments that seemed to insinuate that something was going on behind the scenes, but it’s very possible it was a case of European small talk that we misinterpret all too often. Regardless of the circumstances though, it’s great to see and I wish him nothing but the best of luck.

Google Translated press release from HV71:

HV71 acquires Finnish striker Toni Rajala, 22, who most recently Edmonton Oilers organization. Rajala is described as a skate fast player who is good with the puck and produces a lot of points.

– Toni is a skater and declarer of rank. He possesses all the technical qualities of both the player and scorer. He will bring creativity, says sports director Fredrik Stillman.

Rajala senior began his career in the Finnish Ilves. In total, he has played 116 games in the Finnish league and produced 56 points.

Last season Rajala played 46 games with the AHL team Oklahoma City Barons, where he accounted for 45 points, and 16 points in 17 playoff games.

Toni has been resident in the Finnish junior national team since U16. Overall played 125 national team matches (U16 to U20) and produced 151 points.

The contract is for the season. Rajala join the team tomorrow and you’re working on trying to get him ready for play for Wednesday’s away game against Luleå.

(s/t @ArtoPalovaara for the heads up)