ECHL Playoffs Primer: March 31, 2015

As we head into the final couple weeks of the ECHL regular season, each point is extremely critical as we head towards the playoffs and teams are still fighting for their playoff lives. Nine of the available sixteen spots have been secured, here’s where we stand as thirteen teams battle it out for the remaining seven seats to the postseason.

Barons Lose To Marlies, Lose Fifth Straight

The Oklahoma City Barons, and their wispy lineup, came to Toronto for a day-game somewhat ready to battle the Marlies. Historically speaking, Ricoh Coliseum is brutal for OKC, and the day would start rather comely, but end in an eerily familiar demise.

The Barons would lose their fifth straight, giving away two straight goals in the third, to be overtaken by the Toronto Marlies 3-2.

We will get to the sideways lineup in just a bit, but let’s begin with David Ling. The 40 year old, whom was subject of much a joke on twitter, would score the games first goal. It was a vintage rifle of a shot, that awakened our senses quickly at such an early start time in Toronto. Yes, it was a great shot, and yes it was surprising, but the remainder of the game would be tepid both for Ling and for a handful of the other OKC Barons.

Following Ling’s goal in the first period was Troy Bodie nearly two minutes later to bring Toronto neck-and-neck with the Barons. It ’twas a sluggish start for the Barons, the Ling goal aside, as they would barely unfurl eight shots, and quietly rely on Laurent Brossoit to mop up the sleepiness in front of him. Twice the post would be “rung” in the first period, and the fact that we would end the first twenty minutes with a tie game was a remarkable feat. 14 of 15 for Brossoit in period one. A 1-1 tie.

The second period gave Josh Winquist his seventh goal of the season, and another lead for the Oklahoma City Barons. Winquist, who entered the lineup over Jackson Houck, is now clinging to a five game point streak when it seems that the world is caving in on the team around him. The perfectly saucered pass by C.J. Stretch caught Winquist in front of the net, on one of the best shifts the Barons would have on the night. Unfortunately, it was the final goal the Barons would score. The second period ended 2-1, Barons.

The third period was poor defensively for OKC, which happens to depleted teams, and Byron Froese would pot his 13th and 14th goals of the season. Froese, putting up the best numbers of his career, made two different defensive pairs look silly as the Barons attempted late game line changes. Likewise, Brossoit fell to the wayside stopping only 7 of 9. It is easy to point to defense and goaltending for losses, but the forwards weren’t helping much either. The center position, without Bogdan Yakimov, is lacking a good two-way game. So much so that speed and wings force the team in to way too many mistakes.

The third periods ended with the Marlies on top 3-2, and the Barons losing their fifth straight.

Wednesday Lineup:

R. Hamilton-Williams-Ling
Pitton-Stretch-Ford
Winquist-K. Jones-Winchester
Moroz-Ewanyk-Lyon

Davidson-Hunt
Simpson-Musil
Oesterle-Ludwig

Brossoit

Scratches: Jackson Houck (healthy), Chase Schaber (sickness), Gernat, Yakimov, C. Hamilton, Aliu, Khaira, Mele, C. JOnes, Pinizzotto, Kessy, Lain (injured).

The weird thing about these scratches is Yakimov and C. Hamilton. They were listed as “out by sick” in previous games, but now are listed as injured. Either someone labeled them incorrectly or something else is amuck. Concussions? Perhaps. Undetermined injuries? Perhaps. Regardless, the Barons have lost much of their core, and that’s rough.

Barons Call Upon Beasts To Play In The East

That headline was hammy, and framed around both a silly name for hockey team (which I love) in the ECHL (Brampton Beast) as well as the upcoming road destination of the Barons (Toronto). Hammy or not (I prefer beef), the OKC Barons have slid bass ackwards into a problematic situation. Injuries forced the team to barely have enough healthy forwards on Sunday night, and the injury status of defender, Martin Gernat, is now labeled “season ending”. Yet the Barons solider on.

As reported via this site yesterday, the OKC Barons have signed Jackson Houck (now official) to an ATO. They’ve also called upon the services of three players from the Brampton Beast of the ECHL – David Ling, Brett Lyon, and Jason Pitton.

Brett Lyon is an ECHL player who has spent time both with Allen and Brampton this season. After playing 224 games in the WHL with four different squads, Lyon graduated to the East Coast League with the Solar Bears, but mostly with the Bakersfield Condors. He has made the jump to AHL thirteen times with the most recent stint being in 13-14 with the Utica Comets.

Lyon is first and foremost a high PIM guy. In the two seasons where he played 50+ games he amassed 200+. He’s nearly 300 PIM this season. Yowza.

Then there is the seasoned Jason Pitton. The brother of former Barons goaltender, Bryan Pitton, Jason has worked his way around the world – literally – as a hockey player. Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2004, Pitton would go on to have a pretty good career in the OHL with the Greyhounds. His post-Isles and Bridgeport Sound Tigers minutes have included stints with Springfield, Manitoba, Worcester, and 30+ games with the Asiago HC of the Italy A League. He struggles defensively, but compensates with a nice scoring touch.

Then there is the 40 years young, David Ling, the lone right-hander of the three, who will lace the skates for his 27th team of his career, and for his 13th league. At 40, Ling was drafted by something called the “Nordiques” in 1993 and for a surprisingly storied career he has earned under 100 NHL starts, all with the Columbus Bluejackets.

Ling was drafted, and playing AHL minutes before I got my driver’s license. He played in the IHL, and on team’s that included one Gerry Fleming, coach of the OKC Barons. My respect for a guy like Ling is off the charts, and as expected I’ve adopted him as my spirit animal. Rowr!

Adding two left-wingers and a lone right-winger is good, but it is only a band-aid on the greater problem. The closeness of the Brampton team has allowed the OKC Barons to back-stop their roster momentarily, and that’s nice to be able to do in a pinch. Do the Barons keep them longer than two weeks? Injuries and future health with determine that. In the meantime we will enjoy some new faces.

Today’s injury report via Jim B:

Aim small, miss small says Mel Gibson. And so we pine for the meeting with the Toronto Marlies tomorrow evening. Godspeed.

Ryan Hamilton Clears Waivers, Jackson Houck “Allegedly” Headed To OKC

Two important cogs in the Barons machine over the next couple of weeks will likely be Ryan Hamilton and Jackson Houck. Hamilton, having played minutes recently with the Oilers, will head back to OKC while Andrew Miller tarries a bit longer in Oil Country. Likewise, Jackson Houck, an Oilers draftee two years ago, is allegedly signing an ATO to play with the Barons.

Hamilton will add scoring and consistency and health, but I’m most anxious about the WHL Vancouver Giants product, Houck, joining the team prior to signing any type of entry level contract. That means he is going to have to earn it, and earn it he will on the farm.

Houck, now 20 years old, just wrapped up his final season with the Vancouver Giants where he had relatively good numbers for the league and his age. 22 goals is off the pace that he had last season at 34, but he remains a pretty good player. One that the Oilers will likely sign to fill the Bakersfield roster likely next season. Yet stranger things have happened.

Barons Lose Thrice, Injuries To Blame

Photo by Steven Christy

It’s Monday. That phrase, in and of itself, will bring you to your knees. The bellows of the weekend seem like a faint whisper in the distance, and you can tell by the size of my Starbucks flat white this morning that the start of the work week is throttling my every sense.

I’ve queued up my favorite tracks by Tralmpled by Turtles, I’ve blown my nose twice (thanks elm trees, you scabs), and I’ve begun to reminisce about the weekend that was Barons hockey at the incomparable Cox Center.

The back-end of a seven game homestand is supposed to be fun, fan-fueled, and foxy. Instead it was feeble, fragile, and just plain frowzy. Three games in three days is tough, but is usually manageable at home (your own bed, your own shower, your own food, your own XBOX). Yet the Oklahoma City Barons have been bit by the injury bug, nay they’ve been doctored on using those grabby tweezers in the game ‘Operation’. Yet Jujhar Khaira has actually injured his real elbow, and not his “funny bone”, and poor Akim Alium only wishes he had butterflies in his stomach and not a concussion-like situation.

Before we begin to digest the nuts and bolts of the week that was, let’s give a quick injury report:

Confirmed out for rest of season: Jujhar Khaira, Kale Kessy, Kellen Lain, Steve Pinizzotto

Confirmed as day-to-day: Akim Aliu

Confirmed illness over weekend: Curtis Hamilton, Bogdan Yakimov, Chase Schaber

Those missing brief minutes this week due to injury: Martin Gernat, Connor Jones

The we-aren’t-quite-sure-about-health list: Brad Winchester (played, but has been on/off injuries for months)

That’s eight players missing, two gimpy, but playing, and one still up in the air (although he seemed fine). When the dust settled on the weekend the Barons were playing a Ty Rattie-infused Chicago team with just eight forwards and six defenders (Brad Hunt playing wing). It also has given us a 19th straight start from Laurent Brossoit, and backup goaltender in Tyler Bunz that has yet to grab a start in months.

Uncle.

Coming off a loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday, the Barons would welcome the San Antonio Rampage and the Chicago Wolves twice. The nitty gritty on these matchups is that in the month of March – they matter. San Antonio is closing the gap on OKC in the West Division while Chicago is fighting tooth and nail for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With those team’s desperately wanting wins, and a depleted Barons squad trying to swat flys away from their high tower in the West, it quickly became a disastrous scenario.

Friday’s game against San Antonio was probably the most fairest of the maidens. The Barons would score once on the power play, and score twice in the opening eleven minutes of the game (thanks to Mitch Moroz and Jordan Oesterle). But the Rampage, having already scored the games opening number, would tie the game in the final minutes of the first period, and notch a short-hander on a brutal giveaway to start the second. Shane O’Brien would nearly be the goat for his team as he gave the Barons back-to-back penalties that allowed Josh Winquist to score a power play goal (assists to Jason Williams AND Laurent Brossoit, WOO!) to even the game. Both teams buttoned up their defense tight, goaltenders played a big part in that, and the Rampage and Barons would head to overtime. Two minutes in the Rampage score, and they would take a tight grip on the West Division lead. 4-3 in OT was your final with Brossoit stopping 31 of 35, and the Barons struggling to be “chancy” in the overtime frame (not taking a single shot).

Saturday the team felt the weight of a continued injury-riddled roster, but also a strengthening Chicago Wolves team, and the Ty Rattie’s of the world. The game would go deep without scoring, but eventually the team’s would each etch a goal in the third period of the game with Chicago scoring the equalizer in the final three minutes of the game. Brad Hunt was the lone goal scorer for OKC, and it came on the power play (the second in two nights, upside!). But it would be Ty Rattie, seemingly over his injury problems, with a sweet assist from Magnus Paajarvi to put the Wolves on top in overtime. The 2-1 loss for OKC saw little improvement from the night before, and actually seemed a bit worse.

After securing at least a standing point in the first two games of the three in three, the final game of the weekend was as hilariously dreadful as they come. But keep in mind, they can’t help themselves.

Sunday, the Barons would open the scoring in the first period. Jason Williams would rattle off the Barons third PP goal in three games, his 20th of the season, and it appeared the Barons would be “okay”. They weren’t. Chicago would score four straight goals including the 29th for the suddenly-really-good Shane Harper. Laurent Brossoit looked like he had been hit with a two by four after the second goal, and indeed the game rolled downhill from that point forward. The dust would settle, the Wolves would win 4-1, and young Brossoit would pull himself back together after facing nearly fifty shots on net.

In all it could have been much worse, but losing ground in the West was certainly not the plan. Take a gander at the OKC Barons lineups for each night:

Friday Night:

Scratches: Yakimov, C. Hamilton, Schaber, Aliu, Khaira, Pinizzotto, Kessy & Lain (all injured/sick)

Winchester-William
Stretch; K. Jones
C. Jones-Ford
Moroz-Ewanyk-Winquist
Mele

Hunt-Davidson
Simpson-Musil
Gernat-Oesterle
Ludwig

Brossoit

Saturday Night:

Scratches: Yakimov, C. Hamilton, Schaber, Aliu, Khaira, Pinizzotto, Kessy & Lain (all injured/sick)

Winchester-Williams-Stretch
K. Jones-C. Jones-Ford
Moroz-Ewanyk-Winquist
Mele

Hunt-Davidson
Simpson-Musil
Gernat-Oesterle
Ludwig

Brossoit

Sunday Night:

Scratches: Gernat, Mele, Yakimov, C. Hamilton, Schaber, Aliu, Khaira, Pinizzotto, Kessy & Lain (all injured/sick)

Winchester-Williams-Stretch
K. Jones-C. Jones-Ford
Moroz-Ewanyk-Winquist

Hunt-Davidson
Simpson-Musil
Ludwig-Oesterle

Brssoit

The Barons skate on over to Toronto on Wednesday and Gerry Fleming promises to “pound the phone” and find players to fill a roster. He actually used those words – I’m not sure what they mean – but he used them.

Jujhar Khaira Out For Remainder of Season, Mele Signed

Photo by Steven Christy. Any new elbows I can buy with these quarters?

Jujhar Khaira was banged up on a random play in the corners of the ice about two weeks ago to the day. That injury has apparently been elevated from day-to-day to season-ending. Unconfirmed by the team, but mentioned by Gerry Fleming on Oilers Now, Jujhar Khaira will miss the remainder of the season with an elbow injury.

Via Twitter

The injured list is now getting crowded. Kellan Lain and Kale Kessy are pegged to be done for the season while Akim Aliu and Brad Winchester struggle to get and then stay healthy. Steve Pinizzotto also done for the season after surgery. The team is getting thin, and thus they’ve signed Tulsa Oilers Tommy Mele to an AHL PTO.

Mele will make his second appearance with the Oklahoma City Barons this season. He played in a game on January 30th against the Lake Erie Monsters. In the meantime he has amassed 38 points in 60 ECHL games this season including 21 goals. He’s seventh in scoring with the Oilers, but has 200 penalty minutes. Those 200 are in the top ten in the ECHL.

Andrew Miller Recalled, Plays First Pro Game With Oilers

Andrew Miller, the bastion of goodness for the Oklahoma City Barons at times, was recalled by the Edmonton Oilers after a downright sluggish performance against the Milwaukee Admirals. 56 points in 53 minor league games for Miller is quite the achievement for a guy that graduated from Yale in 2013, and has played just a scratch over 100 pro games. Nonetheless, he’s been good, and Oilers GM Craigh MacTavish has always been fond of this kid.

Last night, wearing an Oilers uniform, he had a couple of good chances, and the team seemingly dominated the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period (until they didn’t). Despite a shootout loss, Andrew Miller was able to play 10:05, take four shots, and not look entirely awful.

Jonathan Willis at the Cult gave his take on Miller’s debut:

Charged hard to the net and took a Lander pass which he directed through Curtis McElhinney but just wide of the net; he bumped the goalie in the process… wired a hard shot from a ways out… put another shot on net from some distance out… finished a hit and won a one-on-one battle in the corner but then turned the puck over on a pass… lost a one-on-one battle for the puck moments before the Jacket’s 3-3 goal… four shots in 10 minutes is a pretty respectable start to an NHL career.

Indeed that is a pretty decent debut.

Andrew Miller will be missed down the stretch for the Barons. Brad Winchester and Akim Aliu, recent acquisitions by the Barons, are both sidelined with injuries (the former yet to play). And news that Jujhar Khaira has an elbow problem that will keep him out the reminder of the season doesn’t help matters much. Miller was an important part of the consistency on offense that the Barons had, and now that seems to be crumbling before our eyes.

Nonetheless, congrats to Andrew!

Barons Split Weekend Series With Charlotte

Photo courtesy Steven Christy Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Laurent Brossoit has been carrying the Oklahoma City Barons since February 12th, when Richard Bachman was called up to the Edmonton Oilers. Since then, the young goaltender has started fifteen straight games for the Barons. The latest two starts came this past weekend as the Charlotte Checkers made their final trip to the Cox Convention Center, trying to hold onto what small chances they had at getting into the playoffs, but seeing them diminish as the season comes to an end.

Saturday night started on a high note as the Barons opened the scoring late in the first period on a power play with Brad Hunt picking up a rebound in close and getting the puck past Charlotte goaltender John Muse. Hunt’s goal was his fifteenth of the season, picking up assists from Matthew Ford and Andrew Miller.

The Checkers tied up the contest in the second period, also on the power play, with Phil Di Giuseppe earning his eighth goal of the season, assisted by Brody Sutter and Tyler Carrick.

Thirty-three minutes elapsed and the game looked destined for overtime, but a suspect slashing penalty was called against Curtis Hamilton at the 19:33 mark of the third period. The Barons had trouble controlling any of the faceoffs on the ensuing power play, and Charlotte took advantage. With just 1.6 seconds left on the clock, Zach Boychuk found the back of the net, giving the Checkers the 2-1 win.

Sunday afternoon, the Barons looked to rebound and try to salvage two points on the weekend, with the conference-leading Grand Rapids Griffins idle. With the short turnaround, the Checkers switched goaltenders for Sunday with Drew MacIntyre in net.

Curtis Hamilton didn’t let the sour end to the night before hamper his mindset, as he took just 73 seconds to open the scoring and give the Barons a 1-0 lead. The Jones Brothers added another tally about six minutes later, with Kellen Jones assisting Connor to make it 2-0. Then Andrew Miller scored his first goal of the game at the 15:19 mark of the period to make it a 3-0 game, with the Barons outshooting the Checkers 15-9 in the first.

Brandon Davidson had the lone goal in the second period at the 6:32 mark, scoring his fourth goal of the season to make it 4-0 through 40 minutes of play.

The third period started to get a bit testy as the Checkers tried to fight back, and that’s literally what Mike Cornell and Mitch Moroz did at the 5:51 mark of the period, dropping the gloves before a faceoff. Both ended up getting misconducts added on top of the fighting majors, effectively ending their nights.

Trevor Carrick then starting to take some liberties against the Barons, picking up three minors in the final 13 minutes. That started to rub both teams the wrong way, as Carrick started to take those liberties against the Barons Top Six, prompting coach Gerry Fleming to continue putting the Barons top power play unit on the ice even with the 4-0 lead. Andrew Miller scored his second and third goals of the game just a minute apart to put the Barons up 6-0 late in the third. Miller’s hat trick was the first for the Barons this season, and also Miller’s first career pro hat trick.

With Brossoit on his way to his third shutout of the season, Brendan Woods put an end to that bid at the 18:59 mark of the third. The 6-1 score would be the final, earning a split for the Barons on the weekend.

Following the game, Checkers assistant coach Geordie Kinnear and coach Fleming had a war of words regarding Fleming’s use of the first power play unit so late in the game. Nothing came of it in the end, but it was a rare show of emotion from the Barons coaching staff that we haven’t seen too many times before.

The win puts the Barons just two points behind the Griffins now, with the Barons having one game in hand on Grand Rapids.

Laurent Brossoit has now gone 8-7-0 in his fifteen straight starts, posting a .926 SV% and a 2.25 GAA.

The Barons are back in action on Tuesday night, taking on the Milwaukee Admirals. It was just one week ago that the Barons beat the Admirals 5-1, and they’ll look to mimic that again on Tuesday.

Oklahoma City Again Defeats Milwaukee 5-1

Photo by Steven Christy

It’s good to be an OKC team these days playing a team from Milwaukee. So good, in fact, that the teams have faced each other three times, and thrice the Barons have scored five goals. That’s fifteen goals scored against the Milwaukee Admirals in nine periods. I’ll take that. On the flip side, the Barons have only allowed them to score five goals against in that same span. Again, guys, it’s good to be an OKC team these days playing a team from Milwaukee.

After defeating the Ads 5-1 on away ice, the Barons would again defeat the same squad days later on home ice, and again by five goals to one.

The Barons have been prone to wanky starts of late, and Tuesday was no different. Allowing a first period short-handed goal sounds like a recipe for a disastrous night. But the careful eye of Gerry Fleming gave way to encouragement as Brossoit and the blue line in front of him wouldn’t allow many shots to creep through the goal line let alone the defensive fence that was created. In reality this was a very good outing for the Barons defense that is still without Marincin, Oesterle, or Klefbom (who probably won’t return again). That’s fabulous to consider. And although Brossoit seemingly needs to cough one up early in every game these days, he has become very good down the stretch on the whole of the season. That’s monumental.

Matt Ford would begin the scoring for the Barons after 24:00 of actual play. With the score tied 1-1, the defense allowed very little offense to squeak through. The second period saw the Barons agitate opposing goaltender Magnus Hellberg with 28 shots through forty minutes. Yet he survived mostly, and would go boldly in to the third period.

The Barons became a ferocious animal in the third scoring four consecutive goals. Andrew Miller, Chase Schaber, Travis Ewanyk, and Matt Ford all potted goals at even strength to stake their claim on the game. The Barons remain first in the West Division, and are within one point of their arch-nemesis, the Grand Rapids Griffins, as the best in the Western Conference. A 5-1 victory is just what the doctor ordered.

Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:

C.Hamilton-Williams-Ford
Miller-Yakimov-Stretch
K.Jones-C.Jones-Winquist
Moroz-Ewanyk-Schaber

Hunt-Davidson
Simpson-Musil
Gernat-Ludwig

Brossoit

Scratches: Akim Aliu, Jujhar Khaira, Steve Pinizzotto, Kale Kessy & Kellan Lain (injured); Brad Winchester and Jordan Oesterle (not with team yet)

Tuesday was the start of a seven game, twelve day homestand for OKC. They’ll play Charlotte (2), Milwaukee (2), San Antonio, and Chicago (2) in that stretch. Charlotte and Chicago are currently out of playoff contention, and thus the Barons have a pretty good chance at winning above .500 in those seven games. Quite honestly, outside of San Antonio, whom have owned OKC this season, there’s no reason to think they can’t win six of seven.

Brad Winchester and Jordan Oesterle are expected to be with the team this week. OKC doesn’t have another game until Saturday, so a long week of practice and rest is ahead. Inserting both players, seemingly fresh bodies, will be huge for the Barons.

Jordan Oesterle Re-Assigned To OKC

Photo by Steven Christy

Well, well, well, what do we have here? A re-assignment following a loss by the Oilers, and an awful weekend – as a whole – for the Barons. I approve greatly. The Edmonton Oilers have re-assigned puck moving defenseman, Jordan Oesterle, to the Oklahoma City Barons. Assuming they keep other blue liners in tact, this gives the Barons seven healthy defenders. That’s good news.

Lost in the weeds, the Barons were for much of the hotly contested games against Grand Rapids and Rockford. They emerged from the thicket on Sunday night, but the exposition of injury had already been unveiled. But that’s sports, and hockey in particular. You have to take the bad as teachable, and the good as momentum.

Oesterle hasn’t been a great Oiler in his recent call-up, but no one has been a shiny penny. Yet as Todd Nelson stated, “We have to see what he is capable of doing,” and they have seen the skillset in a brief six game stint where he earned an assist.

His most recent effort, against the always impressive Red Wings, was tepid at best. Yet I wouldn’t read too much in to his re-assignment as the Oilers have healthy players returning to the lineup.

The addition of Oesterle brings the current Barons blue line crop to 7 – Davidson, Hunt, Simpson, Musil, Gernat, Oesterle, Ludwig. That’s wonderful news assuming they indeed keep a spare in Ludwig.

The interesting footnote is that the above list of defenders, plus Martin Marincin (thanks Geno), is your defensive core when the AHL postseason begins.

Oklahoma City host the Milwaukee Admirals tonight at the Cox Center.