Photo by Steven Christy
“It’s Monday!” I shouted as I pulled out of my driveway this morning, an Oklahoma thunderstorm very present in my review mirror. As soggy Monday’s go, this one isn’t all that bad. Sure I’m up super early, I did not have time to brew a good cup of coffee, and the half-eaten breakfast I attempted to eat has somehow turned my stomach sideways, but things are on the up.
With Blues In by Art Pepper pumping through my bluetooth speakers this morning let’s celebrate the fact that our beloved hockey team, the Oklahoma City Barons, have made the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. This is an incredible accomplishment given a couple of things, but mainly the fact that their NHL counterpart has been a dumpster fire in that same span. Equipped with a ton of normally full time Barons, our Edmontonian brethren again watch from the sidelines of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they rouse themselves to cheer for their minor league club. That is a painful thing to do, and after five years it is becoming less enjoyable, and just gosh darn stupid.
I digress, the Barons have clinched, reinforcements are coming, and the playoffs are within spitting distance. Calder Cup Ahoy!
This weekend it was a bit dicey in terms of when and where the Barons would finally seal up that playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their fall has been nothing short of epic, really it has, from the top spot in the Western Conference to somewhere around sixth to seventh. The team has won twice in their last ten games, six times in their last twenty, and lost nearly half their games by multiple goals in that same duration. Surely the mid to late February slide happened for a reason? It sure did. The team lost key components both to injury in the minors and injury in the majors, but this is nothing new for the Oklahoma City Barons who have a long-standing tradition of signing players late in the season to help combat the losers edge. But seasons gone by had a magnificent coach in Todd Nelson, and a GM specifically assigned to minor league detail. Both of those went out the door last summer or around Christmas, so the times they are a changin’.
The depth of the injury still seems insurmountable for OKC, but reinforcements are on the way. More on that topic in the coming paragraphs.
Rolling into the weekend the Barons had lost two straight. Once to the lowly Charlotte Checkers and a four goal loss to the Iowa Wild. Prior to the game they won on April 2nd (Charlotte in OT, nonetheless), the Barons had toppled headfirst into a seven game losing streak. The stretch was brutal, but the glorious lead they had built in the standings helped, and it took a Saturday win in Chicago to finally seal the deal. The Barons have a final homestand stretch, three games in just four days, that will round out the regular season.
If the season ended now, and the playoffs began tomorrow, the Oklahoma City Barons would square off against the Grand Rapids Griffins. I shudder at that statement. But I shudder knowing that the top four in the standings (San Antonio, Utica, Grand Rapids, and Rockford) continue to jockey for position and remain separated by at least a standing point or less. Yikes.
Rampage. Utica. Grand Rapids. Rockford. All of those teams have a way of manhandling the Barons at times, and the reinforcements those teams will receive deeper in to the playoffs only makes them more deadly.
If you are twisting my arm, asking me to pick an opponent, I’m certainly not going to say San Antonio. Maybe Utica, maybe Rockford.
Here are the top four in the West, and their season long W/L records against the Barons:
San Antonio 9-1-2-0
Utica Comets 1-0-1-0
Grand Rapids Griffins 2-2-0-0
Rockford IceHogs 2-1-1-0
As you can see, the Rampage have dominated OKC while the North and Midwest opponents give us some hope. Yet prepping for a team you do not see much in the regular season is a tough go for any coach. Regardless, our Barons are in!
Meanwhile the Edmonton Oilers ended their season at the hands of the Canucks (replusive), and thus players like Curtis Hamilton, Brandon Davidson, Martin Marincin, and David Musil return to the confines of the Cox Center.
The defensive players are the biggest “gets” here because OKC has really struggled to move pucks carefully while defending their own zone. These three running at full steam with one another will make the life of Brossoit and Bachman much more enjoyable.
Curtis Hamilton has been a good swiss army player for OKC with an increased scoring upside (sometimes), so he again goes back into the quiver where OKC is building depth.
Available Forwards This Week:
Ryan Hamilton, Jason Williams, Andrew Miller, Josh Winquist, C.J. Stretch, Steven Pinizzotto, Kellen Jones, Connor Jones, Matt Ford, Mitch Moroz, Travis Ewanyk, Brad Winchester, Curtis Hamilton, Jackson Houck, Chase Schaber, Kyle Platzer
Available Defenders This Week:
Brad Hunt, Nick Pageau, Jordan Oesterle, C.J. Ludwig, Dillon Simpson, Joey LaLeggia, Brandon Davidson, Martin Marincin, David Musil
Available Goaltenders This Week:
Richard Bachman, Laurent Brossoit, Ty Rimmer
Injured List This Week:
Jujhar Khaira, Kale Kessy, Akim Aliu, Bogdan Yakimov, Martin Gernat, Tom Mele, Kellan Lain
The Barons play three games this week including Tuesday against Hamilton and Friday / Saturday versus the Iowa Wild.