Utica Wins Game Seven, An Era Ends

Photo via Utica Comets. All rights reserved.

Game sevens are terrific things. Game sevens in the hockey world are even more terrific things. They are tight, sound, atypical protective hockey that somehow becomes wildly entertaining despite often being low scoring. We can’t help ourselves. As human beings we like dramatic theater. Every turn, twist, shot, hit, change, and rush is dissected under a microscope in the blink of an eye. Hanging on every play. Watching with anticipation. Listen for the brightly sound of the whistle. Wondering how it will end. Man, don’t you wish you could bottle that up, store it high on shelf, and pull it out when you needed too?

Game seven of the Western Conference semifinals of the Calder Cup postseason was exactly this.

It would take one goal to seal the deal, and it belonged to Utica and the clutch Alexandre Grenier. After seven games the Utica Comets would emerge victorious, winning four games to three, and punching their ticket to the Western Conference Finals to face the offensively potent Grand Rapids Griffins.

As the series had been taken over by goaltenders, both Jacob Markstrom and Richard Bachman would be the scene stealers once again in the finale. For Bachman and the Barons, his performance was stout from the get-go. Stopping 26 shots across the first forty minutes of play gave us some terrifically scary moments. Yet Richard persevered, and really was the reason this game wasn’t 2-0 after the first two periods of play.

By comparison, Jacob Markstrom stopped 27 shots in the span of the first two periods. Yet his game would surge late as the Barons would become ultimately desperate to score.

The lone Alexandre Grenier goal came at the 7:11 mark of the third period long after each team had moments on the power play (three for OKC, two for Utica) that featured good scoring chances, but better goaltending, and careful blue line protection. The goal felt insurmountable as Bachman seemed human again. The Barons would pressure the puck for the remainder of the game, peppering Markstrom with thirteen third period shots. But somehow the Comets clogged the center of the ice, yet again, and shots were coming at a further distance with very few rebounds.

The Utica Comets would boldly emerge the victor. As two evenly matched teams lined themselves up to shake hands, the realization that the Barons season was over began to invade my senses. For the season was not just over, but so was the team.

We have known about the end of the Barons era in Oklahoma City for many months at this point, but I wasn’t ready for the emotional gut punch I felt when that final horn resounded. Dadgumit, when did I get soft?

The radio broadcast sign-off was professional, but emotional as Jim Byers said his farewell to fans, broadcast partners, and a squad he was so intimately tangled within. Even the normally stoic John Zondlo who produces the Barons radio show back in OKC turned to Dr. Seuss’ “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” quote while pushing back emotion.

This is a tough time for Oklahoma City hockey fans, and we know we aren’t the only team on the planet that has ever lost a club they loved. But boy it hits you in the feelers more than you think, and probably more than it should.

As we head towards the AHL offseason we will no doubt pay tribute to the fans and teams that we have loved throughout the years. And as we march closer to the summer months this blog will begin to take on a new shape, a new scope, a new presence that isn’t quite fully realized even at this point. You, the loyal reader, will be the first to know what that might be. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, congrats to the Barons on an incredible season. What a way to go out!

9 comments on “Utica Wins Game Seven, An Era Ends”

  1. And thank you Neal. It’s been a pleasure. Heartbreaking to see it end. Hope you continue writing about hockey (and more specifically the Oilers, you know – your new team).

    I’ll always be an OKC Barons diehard. Thank you for everything my friends down in OKC!

  2. Thank you for hosting this site. I did enjoy the articles. Sad to see professional hockey leave the city again. I guess I will have to start watching some college games or the junior Blazers and just wait and see if another team comes in (as long as it isn’t affiliated with Prodigal, imho). I don’t think any team can recapture the magic that the Blazers had in the 90’s. I think the landscape has changed too much. If an ECHL team came in, I wonder if we could average more than 3500 fans/game which would still put us 5th from the bottom in the ECHL this year. I can’t point any fingers since I probably only averaged less than 10 games/year for the Barons and my wife has only been to 1 ever. Anyway I digress.
    Again, thanks to you and everybody who posted articles that gave us fans something to read and think about.

  3. Thanks’ OKC for giving the Barons a home. This excerpt is from an article written by David Staples in today’s Edmonton Journal and I think sums up the feelings of most Oil fans…

    “P.S. This was also the final game of the OKC Barons, at least as the Oilers affiliate. The team is moving to Bakersfield next season. Through the Internet, many Oilers fans like me have made contact and enjoyed the on-line company of many Barons fans in Oklahoma City over the past few years. It’s been a pleasure to know these fans. If they stay loyal to the Oil, I’m sure we’ll have many more excellent discussions in years to come. No doubt it’s hard for them to lose the Barons franchise, though, and today I’m mindful of that. I hope they get a new AHL franchise soon.”

  4. Thanks so much for all of your work in maintaining this site. You filled a great void in coverage and analysis of the Barons and did so with great consistency and professionalism. I’m a new fan to hockey, but over the past two seasons my 4 year old son has fallen in love with the Barons and the game in the way that only a young boy can: table hockey; floor hockey; air hockey; trading cards; Wayne Gretzky biography. I never thought I would follow minor league hockey results so closely, but I’ve spent the last few months hoping for each additional chance to attend a game with him (we ultimately made it to 10 games this season). I’ll miss this team and this quality of hockey, but I’ll be forever grateful for the memories that I got to make with the youngest of our four children. Zondlo’s sign-off last night was perfect. Hopefully we’ll come to enjoy the other live hockey in the area as we did the Barons. Thanks again and I hope that eventually you’ll have additional insights for how the hockey fans in OKC can continue to enjoy the game.

    Enjoy the offseason. You’ve earned it.

    1. Justin. What a great story. And what a perfect testimony to the power of a sport that traditionally isn’t in the bedrock of sports lore in OKC. Thanks for reading, and thanks for the kind words. Indeed, we fans have built a community through the Barons, and it would be a shame for that community to disband. Anxious to see what other hockey things pop up, and how we can support those already in place. I’m curious. Have you and your son caught a Sooners game or a Blazers junior game?

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. We’ll probably check out both next year. I took my older kids to an OU game a couple of years ago. Probably 100-200 fans in attendance (I think the Blazers Centre seats 600). Easy to see up close, though I think the game speed was much less than a Barons game. Obviously much less production quality than we saw with the AHL.

    I know even less about junior hockey than I do the professional level, though I understand that the Junior Blazers are on a pretty low level for juniors. Hopefully both will see an uptick in attendance for both from Barons fans next season.

    Do you have any thoughts on college club teams vs juniors from a spectator standpoint? Thanks.

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