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!

Fans Snuggle Up For Game 7, Davidson “Game Time Decision”

Photo via Utica Comets. All rights reserved.

So here we are. Game seven against the Utica Comets, and the Oklahoma City Barons still have hope. What can only be described as endurance, our beloved minor league hockey team from the Sooner state is on the cusp of yet another appearance in the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The good news is that the Barons are still alive, and fully capable of winning games in Utica. We know that. What we don’t know is if they can win two in a row. The ping-pong nature of this series probably points to two incredibly talented, yet incredibly even teams. If they were to play a best of twenty-one series, all things remaining the same, I would say we might have a stalemate at that point as well. That is the way the cookie crumbles.

So as the games march on, both teams remaining equal in appearance, the thing that changes is injury. Utica was able to overcome the loss of Archibald (a greasy forward), and the Barons have remained healthy until this point, but things might change tonight.

After leaving game six, following a blocked shot off the right foot, Brandon Davidson is a game time decision. Arguably the Barons most valuable defender, and certainly their most consistent, Davidson being out means that another comes in. And there are reasons why “another” was out in the first place.

It could be Martin Marincin, who has unfortunately been dreadful, but still very capable (we think, we hope, we pray). There is LaLeggia or Betker or Ludwig, well, really there is Marincin. That hand dealt to coach Gerry Fleming might be fine. But in a game seven I want Davidson, thus I’m hoping he is a game time YES!

No other roster changes as of morning skate for either squad, and you best believe that this one is going to be a barn burner.

The puck drops at 6:00pm, and hopefully by 9:00pm my tears aren’t dropping as well. Let’s do this, Barons, so that I don’t have to eat mountains of Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” to cope with my feelings.

OKC Wins Game Six, Bachman To Thank

It was a do or die, a put up or shut up, a win and you’re in kind of night for the Oklahoma City Barons. Down three games to two, and playing Monday in Utica, the uncomfortable feeling you are owning is widespread among Barons fans. They seemed dominate two games ago, and then defeated the next. Utica appeared too high a hurdle to overcome with their sturdy defense, sneaky offense, and magnificent goaltending.

But the Barons would impress on Monday. They would score early. They would score late. They would survive. And the ending would sustain the Barons for at least another day.

With the slightly tweaked roster for both clubs in tact (Musil in, Marincin out for example), it would be a mainstay that would score first. Brad Hunt, with the rare backhand jab, would rattle in the game’s first goal, and the lead for the Barons. The goal was a product of the “shoot first, think second” mantra that OKC has attempted to use on Jacob Markstrom.

The visiting team would cling to the lead for the entirety of the first period. The penalties were few (one for each team), and in a rare instance the Barons out shot the Comets thirteen to nine. The period would end with a carried-over four on four situation.

A Jordan Oesterle holding penalty in the opening minutes gave the Comets a chance to tie the game. Thrice Bachman was massive on the power play as the Barons kill unit looked wobbly.

Things would get a little chippy, but both teams would keep their tempers disciplined.

The Barons would squander a golden power play chance after Connor Jones parked himself in front of Markstrom who was cross-checked in return. The puck cycled well, but the shots just didn’t happen.

Utica would appear to score late in the period, but it was ruled a no-goal after the referee claimed Bachman was interfered with.

Oklahoma City only managed to shoot the puck three times, but they remained in the lead after two periods thanks in part to Richard Bachman.

The third period was heated for the Comets as Bachman continued to make impressive save after impressive save. The Barons defense took good care of the puck, while the forwards played an optimistically appropriate game.

With roughly twelve minutes remaining Ryan Hamilton would put OKC up 2-0 when an icing call was waved off, and he was able to juggle a puck that came off the inboards. It was a timely goal, no doubt, but it also frustrated the Comets. All good things.

The Comets would score their first of the game on Bachman as a shot from the point would squeeze through his equipment. To the side of the net, Sven Baertschi poked at the puck, knocking it in. The Barons would nurse a one goal lead with five minutes remaining.

Markstrom would be pulled for an extra skater, and the Comets pelted the Barons net with ferocity. Defense was tight. Goaltending was unbelievable. And a late Kellen Jones block of a point blank shot would give OKC the 2-1 victory.

The series, now tied at three, would need a game seven to decide a victor. It will be played Wednesday night in Utica.

Martin Marincin Out, David Musil Back In For Game Six

The Utica Comets are leading the Oklahoma City Barons 3 games to two in the Western Conference semis. As the time until puck drop slowly inches our way, some news has come about that involves defensive changes. You aren’t going to like it, but you probably expected it.

You might recall that Musil was benched for Darnell Nurse in recent days. His terribleness wasn’t nearly as bad as it first appeared, and certainly Marincin is the one who has been playing some really confusing hockey of late. Bad passing, questionable posturing, and a massive inability to contain his own blue-line have led us to this moment. It hurts, because Marincin had been on the up in the first round of the playoffs against the Rampage. The second round, and when compared to the stoutness of the Utica prospects, Marincin has been in the weeds. Woof.

The puck drops tonight, as I’m planning summer camp for 50+ children between 3rd and 5th grade. My mind isn’t right, but that might be the best way to watch what could be the final OKC Barons game in history. Fingers crossed.

Four Power Play Goals Lifts OKC Past Utica, Series Tied

Photo by Steven Christy

The series is tied 2-2 after Wednesday night. How this happened is quite the thing to behold, and for once fans were correct in clamoring for a different approach to the lineup.

After the first two games of the series, where only a combined six goals were scored in eleven periods, game three was a bit more offense-friendly. If offense-friendly is how we explain game three then game four was a move-in-we-are-getting-married-and-having-a-baby-after-knowing-each-other-for-three-months type of explanation.

The Barons scored seven goals, four on the power play, to lift them past the Utica Comets on Wednesday evening. The 7-4 final would tie the series at two games a piece.

In short, the addition of Kyle Platzer, Greg Chase, and most certainly Darnell Nurse helped “shake things up” enough that Utica couldn’t return with a clear answer. They tried, and likely will adjust accordingly in tonight’s game five, but for now they have been hit by a two-by-four between the eyes. Those three players would come in for Mitch Moroz, C.J. Stretch, and David Musil. The changes were potent.

Jujhar Khaira would score twice, Darnell Nurse would earn three helpers, Brad Hunt would snatch four points, and Richard Bachman would again face 40+ shots only allowing four to wobble through.

The personnel changed, as did the mindset of the players, but what really looked sharp was the power play. Going 4/6 on any given night will almost 100% of the time earn you a victory. As Utica took penalty after penalty the Barons kept barreling down on them. Two key power play goals in the third period really sunk the Comets halfway through the final frame.

The scoring for OKC began as Darnell Nurse jumped into the play and assisted on a Jujhar Khaira goal, his second of the season. Utica would respond, as they are want to do, nearly five minutes later. The first period would end with Utica doubling the OKC Barons shots totals (14-7), but with a one goal tie.

A late first period cross check carried the power play opportunity over to the second, and Andrew Miller would give his team the lead again in the first minute and change. Utica would respond over the next ten minutes with two goals of their own, one on the power play and one at even strength, to overtake OKC momentarily. But Oklahoma City would follow suit by scoring a goal with an extra skater and another at even strength to round out a wild, goal-filled second period. Matt Ford and then Jujhar Khaira, earning his second goal of the evening, would play the role of heroes as they would give their team a 4-3 lead with one period remaining.

The dam would continue to break for the Barons offense as they would score back-to-back power play goals via Ryan Hamilton and Brandon Davidson to extend the lead to 6-3. The four unanswered goals would force Utica to pull Jacob Markstrom early for an extra attacker. It paid off momentarily as Utica’s Brendan Gaunce earned his third goal of the postseason with under four minutes to play. But Brad Hunt, saucering a shot 150+ feet away, put the goal totals at 7 for OKC on an empty netter with less than two minutes on the clock.

The final horn would sound, and the dominate performance in the back-half by the Barons game was impressive. The 7-4 victory over the Utica Comets would tie the series at two games. Game five will be played Thursday night in OKC. Interesting.

Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:

R.Hamilton-Williams-Chase
Winquist-Platzer-Miller
K.Jones-C.Jones-Ford
C.Hamilton-Khaira-Winchester

Davidson-Hunt
Simpson-Nurse
Marincin-Oesterle

Bachman

Scratches: Bunz, Rimmer, Betker, Pageau, Musil, Pinizzotto, Stretch, Ewanyk, Kessy, Ludwig, LaLeggia, Moroz, Yakimov, Gernat, Lain

Nurse, Platzer, & Chase Enter Game Four Lineup

Photo by Steven Christy

The Oklahoma City Barons needed to do something before it was too late. After the loss on Monday night, OKC is turning towards the young ‘uns to help make things a bit more difficult for Utica to combat.

Announced today, Darnell Nurse, Kyle Platzer, and Greg Chase will all enter tonight’s lineup against the Utica Comets.

 

Gerry Fleming semi-confirmed via Oilers Now yesterday that Nurse wold be in, and that they needed to tweak the roster to “give us chances to win”. All additions are good, sound choices.

Greg Chase, I really like. He is an unfraid forward. Darnell Nurse, if anything, gives Utica something different from the defensive side of the puck. Kyle Platzer, although not the most obvious choice, was on a bit of a roll in four regular season games with OKC scoring twice and earning an assist. I like the changes. I just hope it isn’t too late.

Game four, with Utica leading 2-1, is tonight in OKC. The puckening commences at 7:00pm. If there were ever an important game, THIS feels like one of those.

Oklahoma City Suffers Through Game 3 Loss

Photo by Steven Christy

Games one and two felt eerily similar between the Oklahoma City Barons and the Utica Comets. You can imagine, in the second round of the playoffs, that the stakes would get higher, the teams much stronger, and the fight more uncontrollable. And it has been. Yet the separation between the teams is starting to force a wedge between our expectations and the reality of both squads. Utica continues to be defensively dominate while the Barons struggle to contain the rush up ice. Utica is relentless and crafty in front of the stingy Richard Bachman, and the OKC blueline makes simple mistakes it shouldn’t at the worst possible moments. Game three feels like a microcosm of the series thus far, and unfortunately Utica feels / seems / appears to be the better squad. Time will tell.

With eleven seconds remaining in the game the Barons feverishly pelted Jacob Markstrom with shots. Three sound chances in those eleven seconds earned them nothing in return. The puck was unsteady in the passing lanes. The Comets kept the play along the boards. When the momentum did shift towards the center of the ice, the Utica blue line was claustrophobic in trapping the puck. It was methodical in nature, and boy was is it a thing to behold even if I cheer for the home team.

That final eleven seconds of play was a demonstration of what took place in the nearly sixty minutes of ice hockey that preceded it.

The game began with identical lineups to that of game two. Neither Gerry Fleming nor Travis Green were willing to budge even an iota.

In the first ninety seconds, the normally sturdy Brandon Davidson had a monster gaff directly in front of Richard Bachman, and Utica would take advantage. Centerman Alex Friesen would score his first of the 2015 post season, but more importantly put his team up early by a single goal. Eleven and a half minutes later the hero of game two’s overtime, Alexandre Grenier would score to put Utica up by two goals before the first twenty was even in the books.

The Barons seemed a bit gobsmacked by the early, two-goal lead. They would really have to pressure the puck, rely on Bachman to steal some moments, and hopefully not give up too much ice in the process.

Andrew Miller would beat Markstrom high, glove side to put the Barons within one. It was a tricky shot that few have accomplished against the Utica goaltender. But I think Miller found a crack in the armor just a bit, and would spend the remainder of the game trying to find that sweet spot again.

Minor penalties were a bit heavier in the first and second periods than they had been in the two previous games. It was a direct result of some sideways play by both teams, and perhaps some nitpicking by the zebra team. Regardless, the Barons would be down two goals to one by the time we reached the forty minute mark.

The third period would be interesting as Josh Winquist would score to the left of Markstrom on a centering pass by Andrew Miller that nearly touched the toes of the Utica tender. The game tied at two goals – there was much rejoicing from the faithful few who showed up to a Monday evening game in May. Undone by a miserable defensive series (yes, again), Mike Zalewski would squelch the momentum for Oklahoma City as the visiting team would take a one goal lead early in the third period.

The next fifteen minutes of play were surgical by the Utica Comets. They would allow only three or four legit scoring chances for OKC, and their prevent formation would remain in tact. They would be tested, but never fully broken by the Barons forward group despite an onslaught with only a few seconds remaining.

In the end the Barons would be defeated by the Utica Comets, 3-2, and for once in the series the game wouldn’t be decided by an overtime, 2-1 fate.

The short story is that Travis Green isn’t going to make changes to his lineup as long as they continue to win. I wouldn’t. But the times they were a changin’ for Gerry Fleming as early as the second period of game two despite the additional play in overtime. There comes a point, as mentioned above, in every series where a team emerges as the “better” squad. That happened a game a go, and the assumption was that Fleming felt this and would change accordingly. He didn’t, and we now understand why those changes should have taken place. Hindsight is always 20/20, but foresight can be too. A deeper look at what transpired in game two, and certainly game three, dictates a few changes that will need to be made.

For the record, Bachman is still good even when he isn’t facing sixty shots. Don’t pull him just yet (although he looked a bit “faded” at times in game three). Offensive skill is a big problem, and currently the Barons have a bit of it, but perhaps not enough. Greg Chase is a player that might make a difference. Darnell Nurse might add some interesting speed and play-insertion to the squad. But all of these things feel like tiny band aids on a larger problem.

In the end I expect changes to be made. If not, things might get dicey. But I’m willing to wait, see what Fleming decides to do, and then cast judgement after game four. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point. The team just needs to win. Please?!

“We’re not going to change anything” – Utica’s Travis Green

Photo via Utica Comets. All rights reserved. 

The Barons and Comets head to Oklahoma City for a three game set after two really sturdy, strong, and evenly matched games in Utica. The first was an epic four overtime battle where Curtis Hamilton again scored past the regulation time stamp. The second favored Grenier in an early overtime game winner. Both were defensive battles from the blue-line, and most certainly from inside the net. The offense was stout shooting the puck with consistency, but perhaps with not enough ferocity. In all, only six goals have been scored, parts of eleven periods have been played. What a postseason.

Yet both teams have been extremely lucky, and by lucky I mean Richard Bachman and Jacob Markstrom. They are really really sharp these days, and have bailed out their teams on a nightly basis. That can’t continue, surely it can’t, so some things will need to be tweaked. Game plans might need adjusting. And the teams need to show some magical wrinkles that could separate them from their opponents.

But it won’t be Utica making changes.

Per the Utica Observer-Dispatch, comments from head coach, Travis Green:

“We’re not going to change anything,” he said. “We’re confident going on the road. We have to get one win in Oklahoma. All we have to do is when the next game. There is nothing special.”

So Coach Green strikes first. His confidence in his team has been what has kept the rest of the Western Conference at bay for much of the final moments of the regular season. They won’t mess with the formula (unless this is a ruse designed to get the Barons to budge on their lineup), and I think that might be a smart move knowing the weapons they have at their disposal.

Your move, Gerry Fleming.

Oklahoma City & Utica Play To Overtime Again, Grenier Wins It For Comets

Photo via Utica Comets. All rights reserved. 

After last night’s seven period barn burner in Utica, the Barons and Comets revved the engines for round two less than 24 hours later. Curtis Hamilton became the king of wishful thinking, and defeated the Comets in game one with a major (and I do mean major) assist to Richard Bachman.

With the game going deep, lineup changes were expected. They were few for Utica, but non-existent for the Barons as the away team iced an identical lineup to that on Thursday night. Noticeably absent from the Utica lineup was Darren Archibald, who was injured in game one. Archibald was an incredible workhorse for the Comets the night before, and his absence would be felt.

The game would again be a defensive battle from the goal out. Penalty killing was good despite penalties being few. Bachman and Markstrom duked it out again with both facing 30+ shots a piece. In all, it was nearly a carbon copy of the night before except the teams looked a bit gassed from the get go.

Connor Jones would opening the scoring nearly nine minutes into the game with assist to brother Kellen and sort-of-brother (in distant appearance only) Matt Ford. It seemed that the Barons would be ready to test Markstrom often.

Nearly a period and a half later the Utica Comets would tie the game. Adam Clendening, scoring his third of the postseason, would pot the games tying goal. Bachman had been beat, but it wasn’t entirely his fault.

The Barons sort of cooled off late in the game, and did their best to help tighten up defensively. It paid off, but earned another overtime appearance.

Ryan Hamilton would hold up a Utica player in the final seconds of regulation to give the Comets a power play to start the overtime frame. It was a smart penalty, in some regards, because it saved a potentially hostile scoring chance against Bachman.

As we all prepped our pajamas for another long haul of overtime, Alexandre Grenier scored the game winner a minute after the Barons killed off the Hamilton penalty. The game would end quickly this time around.

Utica would tie the series on Friday night, sending the two teams back to Oklahoma City for three straight starting Monday night.

Oklahoma City & Utica Play Historic Game One

Photo via Utica Comets

It took seven periods, over 126 shots, but only three goals to end game one of the Western Conference semifinal between the Oklahoma City Barons and Utica Comets on Thursday evening.

The game was going to be an epic defensive battle with the Barons stocking the quiver, and the Comets notoriously stout. But the real showstopper would be the battle between starting goaltenders. Richard Bachman vs. Jacob Markstrom was one for the ages as both stopped 60+ goals with 20 or more of those shots coming past regulation. Remarkable.

Seventeen minutes into the game the Utica Comets would score the games opening goal after some feisty back-and-forth moments from both squads. It was a curious goal, in hindsight, because it was only shot number six that Bachman had faced. The next fifty or so he would stop.

The Barons were running red hot, yet safely protecting their zone, when the first period came to an end. Things would really fire on all cylinders past the second period.

Early in the second period, Kellen Jones would score his second post season goal on a fabulous breakaway of sorts. He would beat Markstrom, and the teams would be even after 22 minutes of hockey.

From that point forward the Barons and Comets would each suffer a pair of penalties, but neither team was willing to budge on the PK or breakout on the PP.

Regulation would wind down with the teams steadying themselves, and both goaltenders hunkering down.

Through three scoreless overtime periods neither team was able to score even on three power play opportunities for the home team and two for the away team. The goaltenders, playing out of their minds, would enter the fourth overtime period, having played 120 minutes of hockey, hoping for a victory.

Curtis Hamilton, on the first shift of overtime, would punch in his first point of the AHL postseason. It caught Markstrom off guard, and it caused me to soil my fruit of the looms.

The Oklahoma City Barons would defeat the Utica Comets in game one as the puck finally snuck through the arm of Jacob Markstrom after three overtimes, plus a few seconds. The historic four overtimes would be one for the record books.