Following A Glennie Board, Darnell Nurse Fights

Again, like I begin every GIF post, I apologize for the quality of the minor league stream. Yes, we humble AHL followers pay for this, but in the end we all pay for this via eye exams and brain cramps. In the end, a GIF of Darnell Nurse fighting is on the bill today. I know, I know, why post this GIF, Neal? It is a milestone, I suppose, to have your first pro fight. The reality is that I could care less, wait maybe I could, but I know that somewhere, someone really wants to see this. Open the velvet rope…

Nurse-Fights

Oklahoma City Barons Playoff Live Blog

Welcome to the Oklahoma City Barons postseason live blog. Check back here randomly throughout the night for updates, news, and information you need to know about. The puck drops at 7:05 central. GO BARONS! BEAT TEXAS!

Lines & Pairs for Oklahoma City

Winquist-Lander-Horak
Fyten-Stretch-Miller
C. Hamilton-Acton-Pinizzotto
Ewanyk-Khaira-Combs

Oesterle-Fedun
Davidson-Hunt
Nurse-Klefbom

Scratches: Craig, Musil, Pitlick, Ford, R. Hamilton, Kessy, Arcobello, MacIntyre, Chase, Grebeshkov, Eager, Gernat, Jones twins

From coach Nelson in the pregame

On Josh Winquist playing rather than Matt Ford: “Matt Ford has an undisclosed injury, just now getting it checked out. We hope to have him back on Saturday'”

On Jujhar Khaira playing the bottom center: “As for Khaira, he’s been solid, and I like him up the middle.”

On Nurse beating the flu, and playing with Klefbom: “He’s well enough to play. We want to test their abilities. We want them to keep it simple.”

Period One

The Oklahoma City Barons started very well, very tough, and that was good news. An odd lineup, and interesting defensive pairs played stingy hockey alongside Richard Bachman. A Glennie board of Oesterle was capped off by a Nurse fight, his first as a pro, but the period would continue to go the way of the Barons for much of the first 20 minutes. Cristopher Nilstorp was a work horse down the stretch, and it began a chain reaction of betterment for the Texas Stars. 0-0 after one, the shots 9 for OKC and 7 for Texas. A fast and furious game was headed our way.

Period Two

After a scoreless first period, the sticks came alive for both teams. Austin Fyten and Curtis Hamilton scored a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes of the period for OKC. Meech would inch Texas back within one on the power play. The story for Texas in the second period was all about penalties. Multiple 5 on 3’s, and huge gaps in defense, allowed the Barons to get high quality chances. But after 40 minutes OKC remained up just one goal.

Period Three

The Oklahoma City Barons aren’t built to protect a lead, but in the third they wouldn’t completely fall apart either. Mike Hedden netted the equalizing goal at the 7:18 Mark of the third. That top shelf goal would be enough to push the game into overtime despite a late penalty kill by the Barons. A fresh sheet of ice was had, as was a fourth period. Tied 2-2, next goal wins.

Overtime

The Stars Mike Hedden scores his second of the night, and the one that matters the most. A rebound off Richard Bachman allowed Hedden to punch in the game winner. The Stars would outlast the Barons to win 3-2, and snatch a 1-0 lead in the short five game series.

By The Numbers: Calder Cup Playoffs, (1) Texas vs. (8) Oklahoma City

Photo copyright Steven Christy Photography. All Rights Reserved

(1) TEXAS VS (8) OKLAHOMA CITY
STARS BARONS
REGULAR SEASON
48-18-3-7 RECORD 36-29-2-9
1ST LEAGUE 17TH
2ND OFFENSE 7TH
7TH DEFENSE 28TH
1ST PP% 3RD
3RD PK% 28TH
8-3-1-0 HEAD-TO-HEAD 4-6-2-0
POSTSEASON
0-0-0 RECORD 0-0-0
LEAGUE
OFFENSE
DEFENSE
PP%
PK%
1-3-1 ALL-TIME
HEAD-TO-HEAD
4-1-0
TEX OVERALL STATS OKC
106 POINTS 83
0.697 RECORD % 0.546
0.776 HOME WINNING % 0.645
0.618 AWAY WINNING % 0.447
1.01 GOAL DIFFERENTIAL PER GAME -0.22
7.33 SHOT DIFFERENTIAL PER GAME -1.67
12.1 PIM PER GAME 16.3
14.8 OPPONENT PIM PER GAME 14.7
————————
TEX OFFENSIVE STATS OKC
3.61 GOALS PER GAME 3.14
2.53 ES GOALS PER GAME 2.14
1.08 PP GOALS PER GAME 1.00
36.51 SHOTS PER GAME 32.05
10.13 SHOTS PER GOAL 10.19
9.87% TEAM SHOOTING % 9.81%
25.3% POWER PLAY % 22.1%
————————
TEX DEFENSIVE STATS OKC
2.59 GOALS AGAINST PER GAME 3.37
2.07 ES GOALS AGAINST PER GAME 2.45
0.53 PP GOALS AGAINST PER GAME 0.92
29.18 SHOTS AGAINST PER GAME 33.72
11.26 SHOTS AGAINST PER GOAL 10.01
8.88% OPP TEAM SHOOTING % 9.99%
86.4% PENALTY KILL % 78.9%
————————
TEX GOALIE STATS OKC
0.917 SAVE % 0.905
2.40 GOALS AGAINST AVERAGE 3.14
9 SHUTOUTS 2
GOALIE RECORD VS. OPP GAA SV%
Richard Bachman 4-5-0 vs. TEX 3.11 0.916
Frans Tuohimaa 0-0-0 vs. TEX 0.00 0.000
————————
Jack Campbell 5-5-0 vs. OKC 2.50 0.911
Cristopher Nilstorp 6-7-1 vs. OKC 3.62 0.881

Bill Scott Named Oilers Assistant GM, His Greatest Hits Remain (And They Really Were Great)

Photo by Steven Christy

In late summer 2010, Steve Tambellini made a pretty important hire. Regardless of how his time was spent wheeling and dealing with the Edmonton Oilers, Tambellini had huge success in the creation and supplemental healing of the team’s farm squad in the AHL. Gerber, Giroux, McDonald – all players brought in to backstop a minor league affiliate on the ropes – the success was instant. But of all the hires that season, including Todd Nelson, snatching an AHL front office guy was probably the most important.

Four years as AHL Hockey Ops Director, Bill Scott felt the desire to turn his attention towards team building. His organizational mind, and connections around the league would prove a huge asset to the Oilers farm team almost immediately. Scott, a Michigan State grad, was intelligent and considerate beyond his years. He was largely responsible for the Barons success in season one, and alongside Todd Nelson crafted one of the most potent minor league franchises in a four year span.

Announced over the weekend, Bill Scott will become the Edmonton Oilers new Assistant to the GM.

What that means, we aren’t quite sure yet. Will he be the stopgap between minor league and major league? Most likely. Will he assist in the scouting of underlying players? I hope so. But regardless of what his job description entails there are some things you need to know about Mr. Scott.

First and foremost, he is an excellent judge of talent. We will dive a bit more into his greatest hits below, but this guy cut Arcobello out of camp in October of 2010, only to bring him up and down from the ECHL to AHL multiple times that season. As Arcobello’s confidence grew, so did Scott’s affection for this underdog. The same could be said about the mid-season acquisition of future captain, Bryan Helmer, who was playing pick up hockey at the local rink before joining a team needing some direction. Or how about Brett Clark? In a locked out season when the scales dipped toward insufferable, he was able to find experience and expertise in an older fella that helped the Barons go from zero to hero.

Secondly, he is extremely loyal to commitment. If you are a player who commits to work hard, you are going to play. During training camps, Nelson and Scott would sit high above the Cox Center section 200 to watch what was unfolding on the ice. The players that seemed the most committed to the system, and had the most skill were given opportunities to bring that to the nightly roster. His decision making on player transactions was magical. Jonatahan Cheechoo was a hired gun, but he wore a ten gallon hat that proudly displayed “TEAMWORK”. Scott signed him as a result.

So as we think back on Bill Scott, let us think fondly of his transactions and talent analysis. Rarely did Scott make a mistake when it came to player transactions, and if he did he was quick to rectify them (Bryan Rodney, lest we not forget).

Here are Bill Scott’s greatest hits:

Mark Arcobello
The final day of training camp in season one, when the dust had settled, a smallish forward named Mark Arcobello was cut from the squad, and assigned to the Stockton Thunder. His eventual roller coaster of a season saw him split time between OKC and California only to land at nearly a point per game (22 in 26) in under 30 games played at the AHL. This would be enough of a confident boost for Arcobello, who would never return to Stockton again. Scott knew he was a legit contender – good hands, smart, in-control, quick – and it eventually earned him an NHL contract in 2014 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Bryan Helmer
What is Bill Scott doing? Signing a veteran, mid-year who has 17 pro seasons under his belt? No way. Yes way. Bryan Helmer, the Sault Ste. Marie native, had well over 1,000 games played professionally including 147 in the NHL. Signed to a PTO (and eventually an SPC) in 2011 he would add stability to a team finding its sea legs. Scott on Helmer at the time of signing said, “Having a player like Bryan Helmer can be a key ingredient to a playoff run. We expect that our team will learn from his experience as a captain of a back-to-back AHL championship team in addition to his experience at the NHL and AHL levels.” And indeed the team got better under his tutelage. Having played back-to-back seasons with the Calder Cup winning Hershey Bears, Helmer became somewhat of a folk hero in the locker room and with fans. His “Helmer’s Heroes” campaign also paved a way for the connectivity of team to community that still exists today.

Andrew Lord
Before battling a concussion season, Andrew Lord was a player that OKC hadn’t had, and probably desperately needed at the time. An agitator. A rabble-rouser. A line teeterer(?). He was an energy line guy, would come to captain the Barons, but was signed post-Valentines day in 2011. Quickly a fan favorite, his jovial smile and intensity earned him respect from teammates. Scott wanted “hard-nosed”, and he got it

Kevin Montgomery, Dan Ringwald, Dylan Yeo, Kirill Tulupov, Andrew Hotham, Nathan Deck
The clamoring for better defense was bright and clear in Edmonton during the 2011-12 season (and continues to this day), and the Oklahoma City Barons and Bill Scott would attempt to wrangle in players that fit that desired need. While Steve Tambellini struggled to find the right defenders, Scott found his own version of saving grace in six blue liners, all signed rather quickly. Montgomery was yin to Colten Teubert’s yang, and one of the best shut down defenders team had for a four month stretch. Ringwald was a saucey puck mover who made little mistakes. Yeo was a dynamo ECHL captain with grace, and a thick shot from the point. Tulupov was the Russian defender who trapped opponents with muscle, and a keen eye for the chess game that is hockey defense. Hothan and Deck shouldered a ton of the defensive load with a new crop of young Oilers prospects, and a few locked out players named Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Eberle (have you heard of them?) All did very nice things. All have since parted ways, but they were a big reason that the Barons would go 14 games into the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2012, and nearly make the Finals in 2013.

Brett Clark, Jonathan Cheechoo
The lock out season, in hindsight, was an NHL lite season by every definition of the term (the term that I just made up). The Oilers loaded up the farm squad with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and newcomwer Justin Schultz, and there was a bit of a world beater mentality with these guys. What transpired that season was the other NHL cities, from coast to coast, did the same things with their affiliated AHL teams. The results were high energy, high scoring, and low standings, at least for the Barons. When the lockout ended, the Barons were left with gaping holes offensively, and leadership in ruins (not because of the Hall-Nuge-Eberle-Schultz losses, but rather because they had none to begin with). Brett Clark, a sixth rounder to the Candiens, had recently played 80+ games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was a relevant choice mainly because of his age, but moreso his knowledge of the game, and how the inner workings of teams evolve. As the team changed from NHL heavy to prospect heavy overnight, he was the missing link. Likewise, the offensive firepower lost was solved by Jonathan Cheechoo, a winger with a serious knack for putting the puck in the net. Clark + Cheechoo does not equal dynamo success, but it landed the Barons in the drivers seat by the end of the season, and their best postseason run in the team’s history.

C.J. Stretch
I love this guy. Recently voted the Barons “Fan Favorite”, Stretch oozes casual, California like a walk on Venice Beach. He has great skills too that transcend any place in the lineup. Wing, center, third, fourth, top – stick him anywhere and he will have fun succeeding.

In the end, Scott “won” the NHL GM Assistant job because of his track record of success, and that’s a new thought for the traditional hiring process in Edmonton. With Dallas Eakins as the coach, Craig MacTavish the GM, and Bill Scott in the mix, I like the chances that underlying prospects or ones that no one has even thought to explore, get fully realized. Nuts and bolts aside, Scott is a great, cordial man. His family is a testament to hard work in and of themselves as they deal with dad’s / husband’s wild and woolly schedule. He is a big part of why we love Barons hockey, and how blessed we have been to see an incredible team four seasons in a row. He’ll be missed, but certainly watched and admired from afar. Take good care of him, Edmonton.

Todd Nelson Tidbits – Arco, Eager & “Best Prospects”

At tonight’s radio show Todd Nelson spilled a little bit on a couple of roster spots, ones that have immediate impact on the Oklahoma City Barons in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

To the tidbits!

Mark Arcobello
The biggest name not playing with the Barons these days is Arcobello. He’s not suited up for a game in OKC in over 37 days, and quite frankly hasn’t skates in as many. Today he returned to the ice in a limited capacity with no contact. I believed he wouldn’t play in the shortened first round, but Nelson insists we might see him play by the weekend.

Ben Eager
Eager, recently welcoming a new baby into the world, is unlikely to play Wednesday, but most certainly by the weekend. I’m hoping that things are okay with the baby and mom, because Eager has been gone quite some time. This also may be a Steve MacIntyre type of agreement where the Oilers / Barons realize the relationship (contractually) is nearing an end, and so the services are no longer needed. I fully expect to see him back.

Best Prospect
Nelson was asked which prospect showed the most promise, and he honed in on two with little hesitation. Jujhar Khaira, as Nelson puts it, “is the big centerman the Oilers need”. He elaborated, “we might not see him in the NHL next season, we’ll have to farm him, but he’s a really solid prospect.”

He then mentioned Nurse, “He has some work to do, but he will be important moving forward.” That’s a pretty glowing review from a coach who knows talent.

The Likelihood That The Barons Play “The Kids” Against Texas

The Oklahoma City Barons have entertained a sudden onslaught of ATO’s for the better part of the final two weeks of the AHL regular season. Now that the postseason spot has been secured, and the first round dance begins on Wednesday, the team has some decisions to make when it comes to playing time.

In the finale of the regular season we saw a whole bunch of these guys play against the Iowa Wild, and although they looked as green as a clover on St. Patrick’s Day, they showed some pizzazz, some razzle dazzle if you will. There weren’t enough glowing reviews individually to warrant a WE NEED THE KIDS IN THE PLAYOFFS banner, but the sum of their parts was rather enticing.

Todd Nelson has no qualms, none whatsoever, when it comes to playing kids in high-intensity situations. By kids, I mean, forwards Josh Winquist (born in ’93), Jujhar Khaira (born in ’94), Greg Chase (born in ’95), and the Jones twins (old men, born in ’90). Defensively, the team has been super young, but Darnell Nurse is a baby at just barely 19. We’ll throw him in the mix too alongside Jordan Oesterle (’92) and Graeme Craig (’93).

Let’s talk about each player, and the likelihood that they’ll play.

Greg Chase
(Has played mostly right wing, on 3rd/4th wings)

Chase is a challenging forward to defend at 6 foot, 205 lbs, but it isn’t all about size. He’s small for a heavy-footed forward, but he really likes to attack defenders when he has the puck. Run over you, rather than run around you is his mantra. That’s good news since Tyler Pitlick, a similar type of player albeit more naturally gifted, is out with an injured kneecap. Chase might be a good option on the 3rd/4th line wing spot in a pinch, and against a team like Texas attack mode is an interesting proposition to thrown on the ice.

Jujhar Khaira
(3rd/ 4th line center)

Like Chase, Khaira is a gutty player. Lost in the Lander and Arcobello talk for the Oilers at center is the prospect Jujhar Khaira who is coming off a so-so WHL season in terms of where he projects. Khaira is a tough skater, tough in front of the net, and tough to defend. He’s like Teemu Hartikainen lite at this point, and although prone to minor mistakes, is every bit a dandy of a prospect as you’d want him to be. In a matchup with the Stars you need muscle, and this type of center would be a good addition.  Nelson probably likes Ewanyk a bit more, but simply because he’s been around longer. I’d flip the coin again, Coach.

Josh Winquist
(One game on left wing, centered by Khaira, Chase on right)

This guy is green, but a goodie. Surprisingly strong handling skills, Winquist is a speedy fella. I like the skill that he brings, that quite frankly the Barons have lacked all season. Unlikely to play, perhaps in a pinch.

Kellen and Connor Jones
(Consistently playing together, left wing and center)

The Jones twins played one game apart in OKC, then promptly went back to being line mates. Smart. You quickly see why they were successful in the collegiate ranks, what with their fluidity and all. Masterful on the forecheck, these two might be a dark horse to crack the lineup if Ben Eager doesn’t jump into the lineup before game two. I like the hands and wheels of both, and I think the Oilers were wise to snatch both.

Darnell Nurse
(Top pairing, alongside Fedun)

He’s in, as long as he conquers this illness he supposedly is battling. Gernat has really been timid lately, and that’s cost him a starting spot. Nurse has been more of a liability, but gives you so much to watch / dissect / discover that he’s hard not to place in the lineup. He fumbles enough and Gernat is back in.

Jordan Oesterle / Graeme Craig
(Craig left, Oesterle right)

Good to have these guys in the quiver if a defender goes down, and that’s likely the only way they consider trotting them on the ice. Oesterle is clearly the better of the two, but still a professional work in progress.

My selections:

Jujhar Khaira, Greg Chase, Darnell Nurse

Playing these guys isn’t about TOI for prospects, well not entirely. Chase and Khaira give you skill and oomph that you need desperately. They’ve gotten enough brief reps over the last couple of weeks that I’m confident they can be helpful. If Nurse can lock down on the giveaways, he can make a difference. Go kids!

Oklahoma City Barons Vs. Texas Stars: Playoff Preview

At the ripe age of 15, I boarded a pale white bus in South West Texas, to traverse the pristine, unfettered waters of the river simply known by locals as “The Devils”. The bus ride itself was an adventure. You felt the weight of each bump as we careened side to side to avoid each ditch-like hole in the ground. The driver, a man in his 50’s, sang classic country tunes to himself, but was willing to share with the rest of the touristico on the 30 passenger, dilapidated school bus.

The ride eventually came to a halt as we reached a portion of Devils River. The river itself, only 90 miles long, has often been considered one of the mightiest in Texas for its rugged, unforgiving tendencies. Indeed, as a 15 year old high school student the thought of taking a canoe trip down its relentless being had me exhilarated. The goal was simple. Grab a thin boat, two oars, a lunch pail and canister of water, and begin the adventure of a lifetime.

Float trips were nothing new to me. In the span of three years I endured nearly a dozen of them from the White River in Arkansas to the Red River in Southern Oklahoma, I really enjoyed the scenic tour as God intended the world to be viewed. One of the things that I learned, despite my awkward teen years being filled with crippling shyness, was that these trips were better experienced with someone. Not only for the enjoyment of togetherness, but rather for safety. I would soon find out just how important my fellow paddler would be.

As we began the trip, we were told by our guide that we were 100% free to roam the river how we would see fit. We were given one very simple rule – “Don’t get out of the boat” – we all nodded, and we were off. Our guide, who was probably only 3 or 4 years older than myself, paddled ahead of us and within 10 minutes was completely gone from our sight. As time wore on, in the first 10 miles or so, it was just one canoe and the mighty river. Alone in a rough and tumble wilderness, pristine water beneath, the echo of each paddle stroke bouncing off the rock faces that jetted from the earth like sugar stick candy – it was mesmerizing. My paddling companion and I didn’t speak for nearly and hour and a half as we viewed the spectacle of the waters edge, the wildlife, the lack of human domination. THIS was life along the Devil’s River, the portion of the Rio Grande that eventually led to Del Rio.

A brief stop for lunch catapulted my curiosity. We paddled our canoe to the edge of the river, found an embankment to waddle up, and immediately broke rule number one given to us by our guide – don’t get out of your boat. As we stepped foot on the muddy clay we felt like explorers making our presence known in this new world. A handful of large lizards were baking in the sun on a nearby log as we unpackaged our peanut butter sandwiches and Cool Ranch Doritos. As I took a long, bitingly cold drink from my steel canister I had a thought. Directly across from where we enjoyed a meal fit for a king was a 50 foot rock face with what seemed like a path worn over time by adventurious souls like myself. The path, just wide enough for a goat, started near the bottom and gently weaved its way side to side up the large hunk of God-made earth. I’m not sure if I said it out loud or if we were just on the same wave length, but my companion and I immediately nudged our canoe off the embankment, and landed at the bottom of the rock face where we would make our descent towards the 50 foot heights.

I manned up, climbed to the top, and immediately peered over the edge. The clarity of the water was remarkable. At only about 25 feet deep, the water beckoned me – “Jump, Jump”. Then I heard my friend at the bottom echo that sentiment – “Jump, Jump”. I paused momentarily, saw the face of my guide like a vision that whispered in my ear, I took a breath, I jumped. As my legs hit the water, my body reacting to the crisp, cold feeling of the water, I plummeted to the bottom rather quickly. 50 feet was no joke. I came close to hitting the bottom of the riverbed so I feverishly kicked my legs as I pushed my way to the surface. No problem, I thought.

I emerged, took a deep, harrowing breath, and doggie paddled for about 20 feet. I soon realized that the current was much swifter than I had expected, and a fight had begun. My legs were challenged by the cold and by the swift moving rapids that seemed so calm when I was in the confines of the boat. As I started to struggle to get back to the canoe I knew that the safest bet here was to get to the top of the water. I somehow managed to find the strength to kick and swing my arms towards the bottom of the rock face where our canoe had been nestled for only 10 minutes. For each stroke I took I’d move a half foot towards the boat, but 3 feet down river. I was fighting a losing battle. As my muscles seized, and my breathing became shallow I became fearful of what might happen if I didn’t make it back across.

They say your life flashes before your eyes in moments like this, but quite honestly, all I could think of is “How stupid am I?” or rather “What an awful way to go out!” I often think back to this time in my life and realize the errors of my ways, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I immediately remember that near-death moment, and count myself lucky.

Somehow, some way, and by some luck I found myself clinging to a tree branch, the only one for 500 yards in either direction, as I attempted to refill my lungs with air. As I turned to look back upstream, in the direction of the canoe, my paddling friend was nowhere to be found. That’s when I saw him take the plunge. I wasn’t cheering for him to jump, as he had done me, but rather I knew the struggle that was forthcoming. I knew the fear, the pain, the danger. So I awaited his journey to end as mine did, stuck to a broken tree limb 200 yards from where we both entered the water.

Indeed, he struggled. I watched him go through the entire range of emotions that I did as he struggled to connect his muscle movements to what was raging through his synapses. As he bobbed up and down in the water I yelled at him to push for the tree, and he did. After a solid minute of quiet he looked at me, with no emotion, and simply said, “Why did we get out of the boat?.” Agreed.

As we planned our escape from our glorious tree branch we contemplated the cost of going back in the “The Devil’s” waters. The swim sideways, downstream was nearly insurmountable, and thus the thought of going upstream, in our worn-out condition, seemed impossible. Around the bend of the river, where we had left our canoe, another paddler emerged. We yelled, he secured our canoe to his, and he saved our weary 15 year old bodies. We were grateful for his assistance, both knowing we might have been stuck on that branch for days, and we hopped back into our vessel. Before the man loosened his canoe from ours, he turned, and said something that I’ll never forget – “Don’t get out of the boat”.

Rules, not made to be broken, often times protect us from ourselves. Like me, 15 years old and making a decision that nearly cost me my life, we have to learn these things the hard way. At the time, it seemed that the rule was a suggestion, not even a guideline, but something to consider rather than an actual cold hard fact. Had I adhered to this protective rule while on the Devil’s River I wouldn’t have spent the next 30 or so miles post-rock-jump throwing up over the side of the boat as a result of dehydration and nerves. The rules – they exist for a reason.

Rules. Todd Nelson, the coach of the Oklahoma City Barons, is a stickler for them. Don’t let his laid back charm fool you, he knows that the teams that he coaches are bound by unchangeable rules that keep them above the water line. Without them, the challenge to stay alive isn’t even worth considering.

His rules are simple. Play the system. Make few mistakes. Trust that both will qualify your successfulness. That seems like a minimalist approach to coaching the game of hockey, but through its zen-like mantra these rules alleviate the struggle.

Who on God’s green earth could have predicted that in late April of 2014, nearly 140 transactions, 9 goaltenders later that Todd Nelson would have a Calder Cup postseason team? Not me. But then again I know the rules. I have watched them work beautifully for three seasons prior. I fully embrace them, expect them, and plan on them working. And this is where we are right here, right now, seeing the Barons barely making the playoffs, and facing off against the Texas Stars in the first round of the AHL postseason.

Like the “Devil’s River”, the Texas Stars are an unforgiving lot. They are tough defensively, potent offensively, and net strong each and every night. They are rough, and strong, and capable of surprising even the most formidable of opponents. No team is too large, too big, too tough, too powerful for the Stars to overtake.

Startistically speaking, they are the best team in the AHL this season, and boy are they dangerous of late. 8-1-0-1 in their last ten games leading up to the postseason, they are a squad that own 3 of the top 20 point scorers in the league (with only two of them currently on the team; Sceviour playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Dallas).

They have two of the best goaltenders in Cristopher Nilstorp and Jack Campbell. They have a defense that doesn’t score a whole bunch, but does exactly what you want them to do, and that’s protect their blue line. Names like Fortunas, Gaunce, Oleksiak keep the defensive stoutness together on a nightly basis. Their scheme is simple, yet effective, and that’s to keep forwards out of their zone. They are a force.

Historically speaking the Oklahoma City Barons and Texas Stars have matched up fairly well. From an OKC perspective the last four years have seen the Barons go 24-15-2-3 against Texas. That’s a good number, but it’s not dominant by any stretch of the imagination.

You’ll recall that only a season ago the tables were turned, and it was the Oklahoma City Barons that were the league-wide force to be reckoned with. A second round meeting of the two teams ended with OKC giving them very little chance of surviving in an eventual 4-1 series victory en route to the Western Conference Finals. One game from the Calder Cup Finals.

The saving grace, if you want to call it that, for the Oklahoma City Barons against this year’s Texas Stars is that Dallas has made the playoffs. This doesn’t mean that the Barons have the edge even in a quick five game series that starts in OKC. No, the Texas Stars have won consistently regardless of the positioning of the Dallas Stars, but it at least alleviates the blow just a bit.

Travis Morin. Curtis McKenzie. Justin Dowling. Brett Ritchie. Scott Glennie. The Stars are littered with players with incredible scoring skills. Meanwhile Oklahoma City is the complete opposite. They find their success in playing “gutted” hockey that relies less on skill and more on challenging their opponent to beat them. In the end, the Barons are going to have to really challenge the Stars in every possible sense of the word.

Here is the current roster for the Stars:

Notice that Colton Sceviour and Chris Mueller are absent from the current roster. They are in Dallas playing against the Anaheim Ducks. Likewise, defenseman Patrick Nemeth is in the same boat.

Here is the current roster for the Barons:

The Barons have 22 forwards, the Stars 16. The Barons have 10 defenders, the Stars 8. The depth for Oklahoma City is obviously much greater, but sometimes quantity isn’t quality, and that pretty much explains this situation perfectly.

Oklahoma City is a youthful squad with not a ton of experience, and that might be the deciding factor in this series. Texas is built for speed and strength, and the young Barons might be left in shambles as a result.

With the first game being this Wednesday (4/23) it is absolutely critical that the Barons win at least one of the games in the 2-3 best of five series. OKC will have to overcome the young tendencies in their squad, and rely heavily on former Stars goaltender, Richard Bachman, to save their bacon. Anton Lander will need to continue to emerge as the scoring leader and captain while Ben Eager and Steve Pinizzotto will need to contribute without costing their squad. It is going to be a battle.

In summation, this is going to be one heckuva series that is quick and dirty. Do the Barons survive? I doubt it. But don’t completely ignore Todd Nelson coached teams, and his rules, because they’ve surprised us before. Expect the unexpected, just don’t get out of the boat.

Playoff Schedule:

Western Conference Quarterfinals – Series “E” (best-of-5)
1-Texas Stars vs. 8-Oklahoma City Barons

Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 23 – Texas at Oklahoma City, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 26 – Texas at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 30 – Oklahoma City at Texas, 7:30
*Game 4 – Fri., May 2 – Oklahoma City at Texas, 7:30
*Game 5 – Sat., May 3 – Oklahoma City at Texas, 7:00

Darnell Nurse, Two Gifs Worth Celebrating

Photo by Steven Christy

Darnell Nurse, a high-end prospect with the Edmonton Oilers (whatever that means), has sorta made his prescence known with the Oklahoma City Barons. Sometimes it’s good, often times it’s bad. Any way you slice it, however, he’s an interesting fella. Nurse, just recently turning 19 years old, is a large, wiry fella with incredible speed, good hands, and DIY decision making. Before I go any further hear me out. Nurse IS NOT NHL READY, but rather displays a unique skill set that sets him apart from the herd. Are they fully developed? No. Is he ready for the NHL in a season or two? Probably not. Is he a first round bust? Too early to tell.

In news of the positive, last night’s narrow escape by the Barons was sealed in overtime when C.J. Stretch potted the game winner. Playing four on four hockey for five minutes in OT, Nurse displayed some really head-strong offensive tendencies. This gives me just enough hope for him. Imagine this kid in five years, fully aware of how his body functions, and some additional smarts – he’s a dandy.

Exhibit A:

Nurse draws four players on the ice towards him. Now the Iowa Wild aren’t a fabulous team by any stretch of the imagination, but with speed and good hands, Nurse looked really agile and quick-footed at four on four.

On the game winning goal, look at Nurse charge the front of the net like a lion pouncing on a gazelle. Had Stretch elected to pass, Nurse was there. Had Stretch shot, the puck been rebounded, Nurse was there. All good things. All good things.