The Truly Great Story Of Markobello

On October 12th, 2010, the Oklahoma City Barons made a small announcement that at the time was merely a footnote to training camp. Invitees Jesse Gimblett and Mark Arcobello had been re-assigned to the ECHL team in Stockton, California. The news was so small, so inconsequential, that I don’t even remember it coming about. Watching camp that week, I remember seeing Jesse Gimblett, along with a few others, but quite honestly I don’t remember the name Mark Arcobello let alone seeing him shoot the puck across the newly frozen surface of the Cox Center.

The smallish forward would play 29 games in his first season following four years at Yale, and it would be a surprisingly successful start as he would nab sixteen points in that span. A quick call-up to OKC in January of 2011 would be his first AHL stint. He would play in a thrilling OT victory in Milwaukee in the midst of a Barons six game win streak. As quickly as he would be re-called to the AHL, he was quickly returned to the ECHL alongside Jordan Bendfeld.

Upon his return to the ECHL he would trailblaze himself just a bit with an epic hat trick in that leagues All Star Game. Adding another five points to his quiver, the Oklahoma City Barons (and Edmonton Oilers) had seen enough to actually begin to believe in Markobello. He would be recalled in February of 2011, never to return to the ECHL again.

Three AHL seasons, and 104 points later, Steve Tambellini gave Arcobello his first NHL shot in February of 2013. 77 NHL games and 33 points later, Mark Arcobello would become a member of the Nashville Predators.

The post-AHL career of the Connecticut born winger has been quite remarkable even while fully ensconced in a wildly poor lineup. He scored goals. Made plays. Gained assists. Survived most nights. The fact that in five seasons he has worked his way up the ladder from an undrafted Ivy League graduate to legitimate NHL trade bait is the most unappreciated story of the Edmonton Oilers org in five seasons.

Crushed by lineup management, and perhaps a bit over-achieving in his debut, December 29th will mark an incredible date in the history of Mark Arcobello the player. It is the day he was traded to a real Cup contender. The day he was traded for a really good (or once promising) player. The day he took another step towards legitimizing himself professionally. That deserves our applause.

As the last “original” Baron from the 2010-11 season to still be within the Oilers organization, Arcobello resembles all the good things that an AHL farm club should herald. He was a diamond in a trash heap. An unpolished gem that is often a rare find. Disneyland on a sunny day. A trip through New England in the Fall. A cruise through the icy glaciers of Alaska. His constant “one upping” of our expectations gave us immense amounts of hope that he would graduate beyond limitations set upon him. Practically speaking, he should not be a modern NHL player – release is slow, foot speed is down, he’s just small – but that hasn’t kept him at bay. In fact, it has spurred him onward.

There was Omark, Hartikaineen, and VandeVelde – Arco shouldn’t have been the one that stuck around, increased his value, and landed himself amongst a good team in Nashville that is headed the right way. Hard work paid off, and the story seems to be writing another chapter on its own.

For me it is bittersweet knowing that we will lose the Barons after five seasons, and also lose the coach that carried the team over that time as well as lose one of the best stories to emerge from the Oilers farm team in Oklahoma. I’ll remember many things about this team, and certainly the remarkable story of Mark Arcobello is one of them.

Good luck, Markobello, we will continue to cheer you on. Thanks for the memories.

Steve Pinizzotto On Waivers, Brad Hunt Re-Assigned

After claiming Matt Fraser (former Texas Stars and most recent Bruin) this morning, the Edmonton Oilers have placed Steve Pinizzotto on waivers with intentions of placing him in Oklahoma City.

In a second transaction, Brad Hunt has been re-assigned to the Barons.

Matt Fraser, a guy Oklahoma City Barons fans will recognize, was a wrinkle to the Dallas Stars trade for Tyler Seguin. He is a naturally gifted scorer who had in recent memory really struggled with his defensive skills. He has tinkered with that just a bit, and has become a decent bottom winger. Much better than what the Edmonton Oilers currently posses. This is probably a low risk pickup, and thus Pinizzotto likely is sent southward.

Nikitin is apparently back in the lineup in Edmonton, and Brad Hunt has been placed back in OKC. With eight healthy defenders on the Barons roster, look for C.J. Ludwig to be re-assigned to the Bakersfield Condors.

Other injury news. Ryan Hamilton is still a bit banged up after taking a stick to the face. Likewise, Kellan Lain and Kale Kessy remain long term injuries. Jason Williams, who was under the weather on Sunday, will be back in the lineup soon. No word on Richard Bachman’s groin situation, but let’s assume another week.

Barons Win Back-To-Back In OT, Welcome To The Show

Photo by Steven Christy

The Oklahoma City Barons played back-to-back games this weekend. The games were separated by only 22 hours and over 450 miles. The trip to San Antonio for a post-Christmas tilt with the Rampage was seen through the filter of the impending trip back north to face the Charlotte Checkers on home ice the following day. But like the best teams do, the Barons were prepared for both games, and while they played “extra hockey” both nights, each win was exceptional. Welcome to the (young gun) show.

We will dive in to each game in just a bit, but before we do that let me share with you the goodness that is the Oklahoma City Barons in its current form. Having dipped very little with Todd Nelson exiting and Gerry Fleming taking over, the Barons actually look more fine-tuned than they did a month ago. The system has changed very little, and neither has the nightly lineup. In fact, the Barons have been one of the five best teams in the league over the last ten games (7-3-0-0). The great news is detailed in this info graphic provided by the AHL:

ahlovertime141229

Nearly twice as many goals in overtime as any team in the league. This is big news for the Barons who began October struggling to score late in games. Eleven games have been decided in OT this season, and they have won nine straight overtime games stretching back to October 25th. That’s just a crazy number. It is also a record.

The Barons can win when they have the lead, and they can win when they are behind. The remarkable nature of this phenomena is so un-Oilers-like that it gives me heart palpitations. Are the Barons really this good? Really this clutch?

Again, welcome to the (young gun) show.

Saturday night the Oklahoma City Barons wouldn’t score a goal until the 45th minute of the game. Up until that point, Laurent Brossoit had struck gold only allowing a single goal by way of the San Antonio Rampage whom are highly skilled, and highly prone to pressure the puck. A rough and tough game, in typical West Div fashion, gave way to some good defense. It was Connor Jones that would score for OKC (assisted by brother Kellen) to knot the game at one. Connor’s first AHL goal couldn’t have come at a better time. With the game ending with a healthy scrap, and some rough business, the game would head to OT. Nearing the 6:00 mark of the OT frame, while in a 3-on-3 situation, Brandon Davidson would laser the game winner from a healthy distance at the top of the key. The Barons would win, and quickly jump a bus to head back to OKC for a Sunday afternoon start.

The Charlotte Checkers are struggling to gain momentum leading up to 2015. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a healthy opponent. Sunday night would prove just that. Like the night before, the Barons opponent would score the games first goal in the second period. OKC would score in the third period to tie it up, and thus sending it to OT. Again, Brossoit would make multiple “heckuva” saves to keep his team alive late in the game. About sixty shots in two games, and only two goals allowed – I approve. Unlike the game prior, the Barons would score at 4 on 4 prior to moving to 3 on 3. Andrew Miller, his ninth of the season, would put his team past a good opponent, one they’d see again on New Year’s Eve. The PK was strong through the entire weeken. The PP was scoreless. But in all, the team played good 5 on 5 hockey, and ultimately fantastic late game hockey.

Part good luck, part good coaching, the Barons have turned in to one “can’t quite team”. They are overcoming obstacles much larger than themselves, and that is how the best teams historically win seasons.

Curtis Hamilton & Team Canada Lose To Davos In Game One

The day after Christmas provides a treasure trove of sporting events to help aid in the rehabilitation of holiday hoopla. Premier League in the morning, college bowl games in the afternoon, NBA in the evening, and non-NHL hockey sprinkled throughout. While Team USA narrowly defeated the Finns at the World Junior Championships another historic hockey event was happening in the picturesque city of Davos, Switzerland.

The Spengler Cup, played since 1923, features some of the best Euro hockey clubs battling each other for a week with a non-NHL Team Canada tagging along.

The host, Davos HC, would face-off against the Canadians in the opening game, and it would end on a sour note for the North Americans.

Some sideways officiating late allowed Davos to own a two goal lead until Alex Giroux scored the only Canadian goal of the day. The final was 2-1, and Canada is forced to play again on Saturday.

Curtis Hamilton and Ryan Martindale played together on a fourth line, in limited minutes, but not entirely awful. Again, some really poor officiating swung the favor the way of a really good Swiss team in Davos.

Considering Team Canada in Davos has only existed for two to three days and the Swiss club they battled has been playing for a half season means that the outcome could have been worse.

Canada plays Medveščak Zagreb tomorrow afternoon.

In Hockey, People Matter

Go with me on a journey, if you will. Read the pages of my fictitious diary; of my time spent over the last five seasons writing and rambling about an AHL team nestled in the southwest. In a city where college football remains King, NBA basketball its Queen, and all other sports a court jester.

Five years ago, Derek Zona, my friend and editor at Copper and Blue, reached out to me in a tweet of late night desperation. His cry was simple, “What will it take to get a Barons writer in Oklahoma City?” I heard his plea, entertained his pitch, and gladly joined the team. The wonderful writing staff, and backing partner SBNation, gave me a platform from which I could share my thoughts on Okie hockey. The time was divine. I moved from a timid warbler to a confident wordsmith.

I never set out to write full-time about hockey, and still don’t. My life calling as a pastor remains my constant heartbeat. But I love hockey, I love my city, and I love the ability to share my thoughts.

As life changed suddenly on the pastoral side of things, so did my hockey writing. I left the place that birthed my original hockey writes, and eventually began Tend The Farm where I’d add two members to the team. As the primary site covering the Oklahoma City Barons I was on a mission to provide content to fans that they would both enjoy, and be challenged by. I think we accomplished that. Along the way I began to dip my toe in the traditional partnership, like a newspaper man might have, with the Barons ownership and managerial team simply because more folk needed to hear, see, and understand players and staff alike. As I dipped that toe in, I realized quickly that blogging brings baggage, and that the Barons had a management team that was an oddly insecure bunch.

The naming rights and ownership responsibilities for the Barons rest solely on the shoulders of Prodigal LLC with Bob Funk Jr. as its head. Good people work in the walls of that entertainment business, and we as fans had every right to believe they could make hockey a wholly embraced sport in this city. Moreover, the Barons could become a household name.

For me it was between years two and three when I stopped believing.

A simple request for an interview turned in to an appointment in the principals office. In my attempt to simply gain insightful quotes from Mr. Funk, I was in turn lectured in a room full of ticket officers, marketing employees, and public relations members about the “due diligence” of sports reporting in the offices of Prodigal LLC. After pointing to several posts at Copper and Blue regarding attendance (that I didn’t write, but fully supported), they quickly turned the conversation towards what needed to be written to help further propagate the Barons in the city. I informed them that I wasn’t stabbing the team in any way, but rather making calculated remarks about what I saw as a fan. Of course I kindly asked for more access to tell these stories, and the request was ignored.

Indeed I was given a fantastic interview session with Funk, and I appreciate his spirited and direct responses. The problem wasn’t the interview or even how it went down, but rather in the casual lack of respect. Remember, no one writes about this team more than the site Tend The Farm (local newspaper included), and they would pour buckets of heavy-handedness down upon me as if it were commonplace.

My feelings, post-interview, about the team, and hockey writing in general, quickly turned sour. What an awful experience. However, I came to realize that I wasn’t alone. Fans, although few, felt challenged by the Prodigal brand. They felt set-aside. They felt unwanted, chastised even. Disenfranchised when they should be the largest ally. Banned from Facebook, talked down to in the comments section, and completely belittled, so many fans of the Barons tasted that sour bite deep in their spirit. Regardless of your business model, you can’t lose sight of what really matters – people.

It was going to be an uphill battle trying to punch 8,000 tickets per game for the OKC Barons, but Prodigal ceased the opportunity. The turnstiles spoke volumes when the team remained bottom dwellers in overall attendance for nearly five straight seasons. I think it was a tablespoon of the NBA and college football having seasons running nearly parallel to that of hockey. I think it was a pinch of the unfamiliar brand of the Barons. And maybe a dash of high ticket prices. Yet in the end I fully believe that by not encouraging, listening, and fully embracing a fan base (regardless of size) that killed Barons hockey.

Failed business model? Maybe. Lack of city support? Okay. Lack of confidence from Edmonton? Perhaps. Tickets not selling? Of course. But all of those things could have been resurrected by taking a serious look, bending down low, and listening to the core. The group that buys and invests with little coddling should be your biggest cheerleaders. Yet by cutting the ties often and with ferocity it pushed them too far the other direction. That’s hurtful.

I’m not sure where OKC hockey goes from here, but I almost assume we see pro sticks and pucks here sooner rather than later. My hope is that whomever attempts to bring a team to this city (maybe Prodigal again) will learn from the mistakes, and improve upon the successes. I hope they are respectful of those whom endear themselves naturally to a sport they cherish. I hope kindness is extended to every media member, every fan, every season seat holder, and every curious onlooker. I hope this happens, and I hope it happens soon.

If anyone behind the doors at Prodigal reads this, hear me when I say this. I’m not intending to sucker punch you here. I’m fully supportive of what you do as an individual. I realize hockey isn’t your only project and soccer, bull riding, and entertainment production are constantly on your list of things to accomplish. I do, however, sincerely regret that somehow the faithful fans of the Barons were worried about the state of their team, and you chastised them for being loyal. If you hear one thing in this whole post hear this – always remember people matter. No one is too small, too inexperienced, or too abrasive to be heard. They want to feel a part of something big, something they love. Give them that chance by merely listening.

Tend The Farm has always been a site written by fans, but even more so about the fans. Even when we disagree on subjects large and small, the success of the site revolves around interacting with one another. That approach has summoned friendships, created new relationships, and built partnerships far beyond my original intention. What a truly remarkable thing. I can’t imagine it being any other way.

So I end with another reminder.

If you’re a fan, continue to be heard. Be respectful, use your voice, don’t always believe what you think. Find ways of supporting through careful criticism. Remember that real people are attached to the emails we send, the tweets we unfurl, and the fictitious stones we hurl.

If you’re a business owner, listen. That’s all. Just listen. Do less talking and finger-pointing and more quiet listening and hand-shaking. Love those who love unconditionally. It will help, I promise.

Winless Nelson, Two Rockford Wins, Lander Returned

Photo by Steven Christy

It was a busy weekend full of Oklahoma City Barons news, and as we slide in to Christmas it is certainly a welcome sight. From Todd Nelson going winless (but still earning points) to the Rockford games where the Barons would defeat a pretty solid IceHogs team to the return of captain Anton Lander – things are happening.

Let’s start with the Rockford games.

The Barons beat the IceHogs, first in the Midwest, two nights in a row. One in overtime the other by two goals. Jason Williams scored two goals on Saturday evening, Andrew Miller added two assists, and Bogdan Yakimov earned a goal himself, his second of the season. The defense kept the IceHogs shot totals low, and Brossoit would stop all but two of the 28 shots sent his way. With Tyler Bunz his backup, Brossoit will be asked to shoulder the burden while Richard Bachman is still bothered by a groin situation (the worst kind of situation). A struggling PK allowed moments of brilliance from the IceHogs, but the Barons were right at 50% on the PP so things evened out. A nearly 6,000+ crowd was a oddity, especially the week of the Barons termination announcement, but it was certainly a lively crowd.

Sunday afternoon Miller and Yakimov would add to their point totals for the weekend en route to a two-goal victory. Josh Winquist would notch his first AHL goal following Curtis Hamilton’s sixth of the season. The story in this one, however, was the inability of the Barons to score on six power play chances. The good news? Rockford went zero for five. On Saturday the PK was bad, but the PP was good. On Sunday the PP was bad, but the PK was good. The ability this team has to seize opportunities is becoming uncanny. Good coaching, smart players, good management – all good signs of health.

Meanwhile the Oilers continue to lose (at the time of this post they are winless in the last eight; one victory in twenty games). That’s a brutal total, and a regulation loss last night against the Arizona Coyotes capped off a pre-Christmas run that was remarkably awful.

Todd Nelson continues to add his flavors, although slightly, to the Oilers in-game lineup. Yet this still feels like a MacT team, and as long as he is heavily involved, and Nelson is not given full control, it seems that the Oilers will continue to tumble.

Nelson likely returns to OKC for the holidays. The question is, will he want to return? Just kidding. He’s a gamer. This is a great challenge to him, and he no doubt takes it in stride.

Anton Lander got the recall treatment, played a game, was quickly sent down. Although his on-ice game wasn’t fabulous for the Oilers, he did show a few nice things, but certainly not enough for the Oilers to keep him around. He was returned after that lone game, and suddenly OKC looks a bit more taught.

The Barons will hit the road on the 27th of December as they play three games between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Following a quick jaunt to San Antonio they’ll return home for two games against the Charlotte Checkers.

Davidson Back To OKC, Lander To Edmonton

The Oklahoma City Barons lost by two goals last night, and it ended with fans shrugging their shoulders, giving a healthy “we’ll get them next time.” On the same evening the Edmonton Oilers lost by one goal after a third period where fans again cried themselves to sleep. Change is probably a good thing, and probably a great thing if you’re Edmonton.

Two important callups were made today that effect both the Oilers and the Barons. Both are relatively interesting to dissect

The Oilers sent defender Brandon Davudson back to the farm while Anton Lander finally gets the recall we all believed that he had earned.

Let’s start with Anton Lander.

When the season began it appeared that Lander would be the number one center callup, but has been passed over by players like Bogdan Yakimov. My hockey red light went off, and I assumed as many did that the Edmonton Oilers might just be done with Anton Lander. More than two months later, and a change in coaches, suddenly Lander is back in the good graces of the NHL. Try on 27 points in 26 AHL games on for size and see how that feels. There’s room for growth, and when it comes to Lander, there’s room for him in the Oilers lineup nightly.

To say that he is the heart and soul of this Barons squad is probably underselling his importance. He IS Barons hockey at the moment – hard working, diligent, well-respected, overcoming hurdles, goodness when the rest of the team is oozing badness – this callup should have taken place a month ago.

Lander remains a jack-of-all-trades, and is the swiss army knife player that the Oilers certainly could use. A trip to Dallas, where things always get sideways, means the NHL Oilers will need a good player to insert in specific situations. Nelson / MacT no doubt will get a chance to do that with Lander.

With the Lander callup (and the return of the Jones’ twins to the ECHL a day ago) this brings the Barons forward group to eleven. That means that a callup is coming from ECHL or perhaps an emergency PTO is signed. The team plays tomorrow.

Brandon Davidson, like Lander, is a fantastic workhorse of a defender. Even in four games where he wasn’t entirely awful, he found ways to stick out in a good way. He will probably return to OKC, and continue to take large chunks of TOI while increasing his presence in the eyes of the Oilers faithful. He’s a good defender, I just know it.

The Barons now have seven healthy defenders, a great number this time of year. And leading in to the holidays OKC hopes to round out the weekend with back-to-back wins against Rockford. Davidson certainly will help that cause.

Richard Bachman Injury Update

Photo by Steven Christy

At the first intermission of last night’s Oklahoma City Baron vs Charlotte Checkers game, Richard Bachman gave us an update on his injury that occurred the game before.

Per the broadcast, Bachman stated that the tweak came late in the game where “something just didn’t feel right”. He was able to play 4-5 minutes with a tweak to his groin before coming out, but he claims that “it isn’t as bad as the one I had while with the Oilers last season”. Referred to it as a “situation” rather than a groin injury.

No suggested timetable was given as to when he would return. Soon, the most likely timetable.

Barons Lose To Charlotte, Remain First In West Division

After a completely lifeless game by the Charlotte Checkers on Tuesday, the script was flipped on Thursday as the Oklahoma City Barons looked snoozy for much of the game resulting in a 4-2 loss in North Carolina.

Laurent Brossoit would let in the games first two goals, and both came in just nine minutes of the opening frame. Jared Staal and Chad LaRose both scored even strength goals against a fumbly OKC defense that does have a tendency to wane in games played close together.

The second period gave a little bit of hope to fans as Andrew Miller scored his seventh goal of the season on a great assist from Mitch Moroz. As the team inched within spitting distance (a goal) of tying things up, Charlotte scored on the power play following an Iiro Pakarinen interference penalty. Charlotte stretches the lead to two goals again.

Brossoit actually came up pretty big down the stretch, but the damage had been done. Anton Lander would score on the power play halfway through the third period, but Charlotte protected the lead very very well until an empty netter sealed the two-goal victory for the Checkers.

The Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:

R.Hamilton-Williams-Ford
C.Hamilton-Lander-Pakarinen
Moroz-Yakimov-Miller
Ewanyk-Khaira-Winquist

Marincin-Gernat
Oesterle-Musil
Simpson-Ludwig

Brossoit
Bunz

Scratches: Bachman (groin), Kessy (knee), and Lain (wrist)

It was a brutal night defensively for the top line of the Barons as they just seemed a step behind all night long. But it was a lackluster team effort by everyone with only brief flashes of life. By the time the Barons woke from their slumber they were down two goals, and constantly chasing pucks.

Charlotte is a fully capable team despite moments of falling to pieces. Thursday’s performance against the Barons is a great example.

The Barons return home for two games in less than 24 hours. They’ll face the Midwest Division leading Rockford IceHogs who have been a hot/cold mess lately.

Curtis Hamilton & Barons Alumni Highlight Reasons To Watch Spengler Cup 2014

The Spengler Cup is an odd bird. Played since 1923, and hosted by HC Davos, it is usually a mishmash of teams from across the globe. NCAA, AHL, KHL, national teams, and other hockey squads come together for a week in Switzerland for the historic tournament held annually in Davos, Switzerland. Played between Christmas and New Year’s, the 2014 version of the Spengler Cup is an interesting one if you’re a fan of the Oklahoma City Barons.

Included on this year’s Team Canada roster is Barons winger, Curtis Hamilton, who has played a mighty fine game in the months leading up to Christmas. He will suit up alongside other Barons alumni, Alexandre Giroux and Ryan Martindale. Other Barons alum playing in the Spengler include Teemu Hartikainen (swoon) who is now in his second season with HC Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and Linus Omark who is pinning away in Finland with Jokerit Helsinki.

In addition to hosts HC Davos, 5 additional teams make up the tournament field. Team Canada, HC Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL Medvescak Zagreb , Jokerit Helsinki, and Geneve-Servette HC.

The full team Canada Roster is below:

Goaltenders
Drew MacIntyre (Charlotte Checkers)
Nolan Schaefer (SC Bern)

Defenders
Micki Dupont (Kloten Flyers)
Marc-André Gragnani (SC Bern)
Joel Kwiatkowski (Fribourg-Gotteron)
Steve McCarthy (SCL Tigers)
Brendan Mikkelson (Toronto Marlies)
Jim Vandermeer (Kloten Flyers)
Derrick Walser (Rapperswil-Jona Lakers)

Forwards
Chris DiDomenico (SCL Tigers)
Colby Genoway (Lausanne HC)
Jeff Tambellini (Fribourg-Gotteron)
Marc-Antoine Pouliot (Fribourg-Gotteron)
Curtis Hamilton (Oklahaoma City Barons)
Alexandre Giroux (HC Ambrì-Piotta)
Stefano Giliati (Espoo Blues)
Byron Ritchie (SC Bern)
Bud Holloway (SC Bern)
Mike Hedden (Assat Pori)
Ryan Martindale (San Antonio Rampage)
Brett McLean (HC Lugano)
Ben Walter (EC Salzburg)
Chuck Kobasew (SC Bern)

The tournament kicks off on December 26th. The full schedule can be seen below: