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!