Oklahoma City Beats Charlotte Twice, Four Points Is Nice

Photo by Steven Christy

As the voice of the Oklahoma City Barons, Jim Byers, is want to say, “It sure is nice playing meaningful hockey in the month of April.”

Indeed it is. After barely scraping by the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday night, the newly redesigned Oklahoma City Barons hosted the Charlotte Checkers in a Saturday and Sunday two-for. The games were hugely important for both squads, whom are battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference as we dangerously approach two more weeks remaining in the AHL season.

Six new players would make their debut in less than a week, and that’s given the Barons hope. Greg Chase and Jujhar Khaira would be instrumental in the Wednesday shootout victory (Chase scoring the game tying goal in regulation), and it proved what we all have known for some time – the Barons lack skill. Defenseman Jordan Oesterle, twin forwards Connor and Kellen Jones, and WHL scoring ace Mitch Holmberg would all get time in key games. All would be highly successful in debuts.

So as we stepped into the deep end of the hockey pool, Todd Nelson and crew set out to beat the Checkers in back-to-back games, and win that final spot in the West. Let’s start by talking roster. Here are the lines and pairs over the weekend.

Saturday Night:

Andrew Miller – Austin Fyten – C.J. Stretch
Ben Eager – Jujhar Khaira – Curtis Hamilton
Roman Horak – Connor Jones – Matt Ford
Kellen Jones – Travis Ewanyk – Greg Chase

Martin Gernat – Taylor Fedun
Brandon Davidson – Brad Hunt
Jordan Oesterle – David Musil

Richard Bachman

Sunday Afternoon:

Andrew Miller – Austin Fyten – C.J. Stretch
Ben Eager – Jujhar Khaira – Curtis Hamilton
Roman Horak – Connor Jones – Matt Ford
Kellen Jones – Travis Ewanyk – Mitch Holmberg

Martin Gernat – Taylr Fedun
Brandon Davidson – Brad Hunt
Jordan Oesterle – David Musil

Richard Bachman

As you can see the only real tweaks to the lineup are found on that fourth line with Greg Chase out and Mitch Holmberg in. The second line centered by Jujhar Khaira would continue to be tough and angular, while the Jones twins added some solid stick handling at third and fourth line roles.

Charlotte, recently losing to San Antonio, arrived in OKC late Friday into Saturday, and it was evident from the get-go that they had little steam left. The typically highly skilled Checkers looked gassed from the beginning, and lost their sea legs late in the game. Oklahoma City had no excuse for their lack of chutzpah, but they would be able to score one more goal than Charlotte to tip the scales in their favor. Actually, it was the only goal scored.

A very quick first period for Oklahoma City saw two early power play chances look awkwardly off track, while Charlotte embraced the casual. Checkers goaltender, John Muse, would stop fourteen shots early while Richard Bachman had to manage less than ten. As the game continued, the pace slightly slowed, and thus favored the newly finagled lineup in OKC.

C.J. Stretch would score the lone goal of the game in the second period on the power play following a hooking penalty from Jared Staal. Andrew Miller and Brad Hunt would add assists to their season totals, and the game would carry on. Oklahoma City wouldn’t suffer their first penalty of the game until the 7:32 mark of the second period. The temperature of the Barons roster dictated that they be super careful to avoid infractions, and the team managed that. Charlotte can get streaky, even when tired, and the game was relatively in the hands of the Barons throughout.

A late third period surge by the Checkers allowed Richard Bachman to again emerge as the stalwart goaltender that we have known him to be. Fourteen shots faced, fourteen shots denied, and the Barons would win 1-0 to start the ball rolling against the pesky Checkers.

Game two, in terms of goaltending and pace, was vastly different than the game that occurred less than 24 hours prior.

Ten goals were spun out, (SPOILER) two more by OKC, in a hotly contested game from puck drop until final horn blow. THIS is the game that we all anticipated – Charlotte stick and shot happy, the Barons forced into quality defense – and it was a highly entertaining victory for the home team.

The power play was impressive for the Barons in stretches, and it netted three out of seven possible goals. That’s huge. The penalty kill was at 75%, and that was quite remarkable.

Zach Boychuk continued his stellar season notching his 34th goal nearly eight minutes into the competition. That didn’t completely decimate the Barons chances, but it proved that Charlotte was much more prepared to play than the previous night. The squad from OKC would have their hands full.

A boorish start for OKC early led to a dam breaking of the offense in the second. Matt Ford, Andrew Miller, Roman Horak, and Taylor Fedun etched goals in under fifteen minutes. The reliable goal scorers that those four have become came as a plethora of penalties were taken by the Checkers. The good news is that OKC made good on three PP chances in the second period alone. A late Boychuk goal, his second of the evening, allowed the visiting squad to have hope. After forty minutes, the Barons had a solid 4-2 lead.

A late second period unsportsmanlike penalty from Ben Eager gave Charlotte some carryover power play time. Mark Flood netted a power play goal to bring the count to 4-3 still favoring the Barons. Justin Shugg posted the equalizer ten minutes later, and fans (like me) got nervous.

Curtis Hamilton, slowly returning to tip top form, had a slick goal on a 3 on 2 breakaway that put the Barons up 5-4 with only 35 seconds remaining in regulation. Clouds seemed fluffier, the sun sunnier, and the playoffs a possibility. Brandon Davidson earned an empty netter to nail the coffin shut on a 6-4 victory, and a seventh seed in the West (if the season ended today).

The underlying theme here is the incredible work being done by Todd Nelson. One, maybe two, practices in and THIS is how well the young prospects played? Nothing short of remarkable. Get that man an NHL job now.

In the end, the Barons wrangled in four points against a team they were chasing. Here is how the rest of the West shakes out (below the Barons in 7th)

Barons currently in 7th with 77 points have a nasty road trip to Abbotsford on the horizon.
Rochester in 8th with 76 & a game in hand plays Toronto, Hamilton, and Lake Erie this week.
Rockford in 9th with 75 & a game in hand plays Milwaukee twice, as well as Iowan and Chicago.
Charlotte in 10th with 75 & two extra games played squares off against Grand Rapids twice.

The playoffs are not a lock just yet, but we are getting there, and given the current state of this squad — THAT’S AMAZING!