Previous Meetings: Utica & Oklahoma City Do The “Splits”

Photo by Steven Christy

Game #1 – December 2nd, 2014
Utica Comets 0 – Oklahoma City Barons 1 (OT)

The Comets stumbled into the Cox Center in early December while the Barons were on an eight game tear through the American Hockey League. Knowing that they would only face the Comets one other time during the regular season, OKC would play really good defensive minutes against a team with skill. Richard Bachman would stop all 34 shots for the shutout, and Todd Nelson would be showcasing his talents before assuming the role of the Edmonton Oilers interim head coach (replacing Dallas Eakins).

It took nearly 64:00 scoreless minutes for Jason Williams to score his eighth goal of the season with a whale of an assist from the suddenly-good Curtis Hamilton.

The Barons power play went 0/2, but their penalty killing was superb (in three chances). A late game trip by David Musil and a subsequent scrap with Brendan Guance 7:16 into the third period nearly undid the perfect game for Richard Bachman. Yet the defense steadied themselves, and the penalty kill worked like a charm.

Joacim Eriksson played remarkably well stopping 34 of 35 shots for the Utica Comets.

Game #2 – March 27th, 2015
Oklahoma City Barons 2 – Utica Comets 4

The first game was low-scoring, goaltender-leaning. The second game was the complete opposite. Laurent Brossoit was in net while Richard Bachman played back up with the Oilers, and Joacim Eriksson made his second appearance against the Barons.

This game was over mid-way through the second period as Utica scored four straight against a soggy Barons squad. Yet the tall tale in this outing was about one thing – penalties. Eleven different roughing calls, three players awarded ten minute game misconducts (including C.J. Ludwig and Travis Ewanyk), and 77 penalty minutes in total. It was a bruiser of a hockey game that got wildly out of hand halfway through the game.

Four different Comets scored in a span of less than twenty minutes of game time, all of them at full strength. It was not a good showing for the Barons nor for Laurent Brossoit who was struggling in the wave of badness that became a team problem through the month of April.

Jason Williams would score his 18th goal of the season after Darren Archibald was whistled for a check to the head and issued a game misconduct. The Williams power play goal breathed a bit of life into the Barons sails as the second period came to a close.

Mitch Moroz would chip away at the Utica lead by scoring only his fourth goal of the season with an assist to Jackson Houck (his only point in seven games) and Jordan Oesterle.

The team was buried by the brutish nature of the game, and their inability to “shake off the problems” bit them in the end. And so the two parted ways.

In Conclusion

The two games couldn’t have been more incredibly different, and quite honestly, the two games represent two completely different seasons within a season for both squads.

Goaltending changes, defensive movement, recalled players, injuries, coaching changes, etc. all played a huge part in the victories or defeats in both cases.

This is the danger of facing unfamiliar teams in the postseason – which version are we gonna get?

For Oklahoma City the doldrums of their March to April swing have given way to some really sound play in the first round. I continue to suggest they got lucky (in many cases), and that they caught a Rampage team on a downhill slide. Utica has slow-burned their way towards being one of the best in the West (actually, the best mathematically speaking), and they are probably more like the Game #2 team than the Game #1 team.

For Utica, they showed they have the guts, the goaltending, and the gall to put a hurt on a team like the Oklahoma City Barons. Markstrom and Eriksson are every bit the dandy that Bachman and Brossoit have been (probably moreso), but the Comets can be beat. It just hasn’t happened often.

We will break down the two squads in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Jackson Houck & Chase Schaber Released From Contracts

Three days ago, on May 2nd, it appears that Jackson Houck and Chase Schaber were released from their PTO contracts. No official announcement was made by the Edmonton Oilers or by the Oklahoma City Barons.

Houck, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, played in seven AHL games with an assist to his credit. Schaber, a Bakersfield call-up, played in thirteen games scoring once.

Here is the official transaction via theAHL.com:

houck-schaber

Tyler Bunz Returns To Oklahoma City

Photo by Steven Christy

On April 18th, as the AHL regular season came to an end, Tyler Bunz gave us his farewells via his twitter account. Bunz, a player that is easy to root for, has had a wild two seasons both in terms of injury (horrific throat incident) and placement (played 13 games with ECHL Bakersfield Condors, 17 games with ECHL Wichita Thunder, 7 with the Oklahoma City Barons, and 1 with the Edmonton Oilers). The rollercoaster ride has been wild and woolly for the 23 year old tender from St. Albert.

His farewell was kind-hearted, which further explains why he is easy to root for. He said:

We tweeted our appreciation in return. And it seemed that we would no longer get the opportunity to see Bunz play in Oklahoma City again. Until…

Apparently Tyler Bunz is back in the OKC fold. Richard Bachman, Laurent Brossoit, and Ty Rimmer have been the three postseason goaltenders listed on the official team roster. Rimmer has yet to play a minute, but is no doubt a part of the practice rotation. With the return of Tyler Bunz who have to wonder whom might be injured or what might be happening with Rimmer. I won’t speculate any further. Officially – as of 11:00am on May 5th – the OKC Barons have four official goaltenders. That is never a bad thing, really it isn’t.

Darnell Nurse To Join The Oklahoma City Barons

 

Photo by Steven Christy

Gerry Fleming, via the Oilers Now radio show, announced today that Darnell Nurse will join the Oklahoma City Barons in Utica tomorrow afternoon for the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

On the heels of an OHL playoff loss at the hands of Connor McDavid and his Erie Otters, Nurse will squeeze into the top six defenders in the next week with the Oklahoma City Barons (he spent time with OKC at the end of last season as well). Where exactly will he fit in the lineup? “I’ll talk to Darnell this afternoon. We will go from there,” is all that coach Gerry Fleming would give us.

“Darnell is a great player, and we are very excited to have him. He probably wished his OHL season ended a bit differently, but we are still grateful to have him,” said Fleming.

More details to come…

OKC Round Two Opponent Set, Schedule Hates OKC

The Utica Comets somehow finagled themselves out of a jam defeating the Chicago Wolves over the weekend. Winning in overtime twice and earning a spot in the second round, they will now square off against our beloved Oklahoma City Barons.

After the first round, best-of-five, the teams are reshuffled. This places the Barons at the tail end of the equation (seed #6) and the Utica Comets firmly at the top (#1). Regardless of how the playoff brackets looked a week ago, highest plays lowest, and so forth, and so on.

The other Western Conference semi-final features the Rockford IceHogs against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The games between Utica and OKC are as follows:

Game 1 – Thu., May 7 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 6:00
Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 6:00
Game 3 – Mon., May 11 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 13 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 7:00
*Game 5 – Thu., May 14 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., May 18 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 6:00
*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 6:00

*if necessary; all times central

The games begin in Utica, where the teams quickly play two-games-in-two-days to begin the semis. That is tough. Yet the AHL scheduling gods continue to hate Oklahoma City, who struggles to put rumps in the seats as is, by giving us a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday swing. That is brutal when you are trying to sell tickets. But when hasn’t selling tickets been brutal?

Selfishly I like the Monday-Wednesday-Thursday swing because it gives you an excuse to watch really good hockey sandwiched together in to one week. Would have been nice to have the series take over the following weekend, but time constraints have us mid-week for what could be the most important three-game stretch of the season.

I’m excited. (You should be too). More on the Utica Comets as time marches on…

 

Barons Sweep! Take Game Three In OT

‘Tis a glorious thing to behold, a team that can challenge opponents deep into games. That has been the case for much of the 2014-15 season, and now, suddenly, those moments include the Calder Cup postseason.

Last night, with the Rampage facing elimination, the Oklahoma City Barons won game three in overtime and have advanced to the Western Conference semi-finals.

Can we do this in reverse, Memento style?

Jujhar Khaira was injured in a game in early March when he was plastered into the corners allowing his elbow to soften the blow against the boards. Bad idea. Mid-Spring Break coach Gerry Fleming deemed Khaira a loss for the remainder of the season following that specific injury. The bummer of a sigh from fans in OKC was full and deep. We thought we had seen the last of young Jujhar, with whom we had high hopes.

Five minutes into game three’s overtime, Jujhar Khaira would knock in a rebound to defeat the Rampage who were up against a wall. The sweep was complete, but a bit of redemption was in store for Khaira who had both returned to action after a time away and scored his first postseason goal as a professional. Well done.

Prior to this wondrous moment in time, the Rampage evened the game with :58 remaining. Tom Rowe brilliantly waited until the on-ice matchups were to his liking, and he motioned for Dan Ellis to scamper to the bench. When he did, the Barons were unable to re-group as they fought hard against the onslaught of offense that finally emerged from the San Antonio forwards. Up a skater, Dylan Olsen would invigorate his team, and those fans in attendance, as the game would slowly creep towards sudden death overtime at one goal from each squad.

It was young Kellen Jones who scored the games opening goal after nearly forty minutes of scoreless hockey. Kellen, and his brother Connor, have now accounted for a combined three goals in only nine official shots on net. Love those two. (Prep your #MCM folks).

The struggle was real for the Rampage whom have dominated offensively for much of the season. Hate to grandstand here just a bit, but the game two loss seemed debilitating in some regards as the offense struggled to beat starting goaltender Richard Bachman.

By comparison, Dan Ellis did a terrific job fighting off Barons goal scorers for much of the game, and his work should not go unrecognized. He was sensational.

But let’s return to Bachman, who was good from the start, but magical in the third period where he faced 19 shots and only let in one (that :58 barn burning equalizer).

The steadiness he gave the team in game two carried over to game three where he played out-of-his-mind minutes against a team desperate to stay alive.

In all, it was a terrific performance by the Barons if not (again and again and again) a lucky victory. I think maybe I will stop calling these wins lucky because they happen far too often. Instead I will congratulate Gerry Fleming and the coaching staff for shoehorning Khaira into the lineup (on the fourth line), and offering three speedy lines who would carry the weight of the minutes. And defensively, there were minor issues, but what a “trap and sack” game the blue line played keeping the play in front of them as much as possible. When they did make mistakes, Bachman bailed them out, and this team continues to get better as the postseason marches on.

The game, in a nutshell, was one for the ages. On the other hand, the Rampage have toppled greatly having lost now six in a row after having a streak that featured nine wins in ten games. Ouch.

Their undoing has been nothing short of baffling. Yet the Barons took advantage of the opportunity, and seem like world-beaters at least for another week.

If things hold – Utica and Toronto win – the Rockford IceHogs will face the Barons in a seven game series. The IceHogs, also earning a sweep of their own, but against the reigning champs in Texas, are a quick, stout, impressive squad in the same vein as the Rampage. But whomever the opponent, the games will be worth watching.

Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:

R. Hamilton-Williams-C. Hamilton
Winquist-Stretch-Miller
K. Jones-C. Jones-Ford
Moroz-Khaira-Winchester

Davidson-Hunt
Simpson-Musil
Marincin-Oesterle

Richard Bachman

Scratches: Betker, Pageau, Houck, Pinizzotto, Platzer, Ewanyk, Kessy, Ludwig, Chase, LaLeggia, Schaber, Yakimov, Gernat, Lain

Available Goaltenders: Rimmer

With Oklahoma City Up 2-0, Game 3 Should Be A Dandy

The Oklahoma City Barons may be up on the San Antonio Rampage two games to none, but that doesn’t mean that this series is over. It certainly means the Rampage have an uphill climb, but it certainly isn’t over.

The heroic comeback on Saturday evening was nothing short of remarkable. Yet it was also extremely lucky. The players who are most likely to score throughout the season are the players also scoring in the post season. Ryan Hamilton with two power play goals and three points. Matt Ford, Andrew Miller, and Brad Hunt with three points in two games. There is Connor Jones with two goals on just two shots including the game winner on Saturday night. Jason Williams, Josh Winquist, and Jordan Oesterle have all contributed. In all, the post season has begun remarkably well. But then there is luck.

Laurent Brossoit was yucky to start game two after being amazing in game one. The decision to pull him after 20+ minutes, facing 24 shots, and letting in 3 was an interesting choice. But one that paid off for Gerry Fleming. Richard Bachman came in at the relief position and was magical. “The Biz” seems ready to make his mark on the Calder Cup run so I expect him to start game three with Dan Ellis (according to Dan Weiss, PxP fella for the Rampage, all-around good guy) at the other end.

In come some interesting players for the Rampage, as they shake things up in their not-so-triumphant return to San Antonio.

Namely Kyle Rau whom was drafted #91 in 2011, just one spot ahead of another collegiate prospect on the Oilers farm, Dillon Simpson. Rau is a 40+ points per season player in four straight at the University of Minnesota. The Big Ten is a competitive league, but it is not producing national titles (save for Michigan, the dominate performer). Yet he is a shifty player, good hands, sort of small, but powerful, and gives Gerry Fleming and crew something to really think about. I like it for the Rampage.

Ryan Hamilton is good to go, as is most of the team. A quick scouting report from practice this week says all are ready to go (those who played in games one and two).

It will be very interesting to see if San Antonio can play deep in this one. To go deep teams have to be able to defend and get solid goaltending. These are two leaky tires in the recent drive of games one and two. Can they fix it? Yes, they are the Rampage. Will they is the question.

The Rampage will raise their Western Division banner this evening, and congrats on a truly historical season for the Rampage. A banner year, a banner season, a banner team – they continue to play with pride. Don’t think for a moment that they will not go out with a fight.

Let Us Visit The Symphony (And Hockey Third Periods)

Third periods. You could call it the most important twenty minutes of a hockey game. The escalation of the game should build like a beautiful symphonic expression telling an elaborate story.

The string section slowly glides as the viola tickles your eardrum. The cellos play a melodious rhythm that resounds through your inner being. The light thud of the bass gives way to the sudden full-bodied sound of the bassoon.

Next comes the piercing sound of the flute and piccolo, and the sensation that something great is about to happen. As they twinkle, almost sparkle, behind the wood apparatus that accompany them, the movement pauses momentarily as if needing a breathe.

The sound of metallic staccato notes fills the upper reaches of the auditorium. The trombone and the tuba play in perfect synchronicity as the piece of music turns to pure art. Each part of the brass section works in harmony – forming notes and thoughts and memories – as you begin to understand a story being told where there are no words and there are no pictures.

Finally the percussion, and the overwhelming clamor that completes the entirety of the performance. Always a show-stealer, the shakers, the xylophone, the cymbals, the timpani bang out rhythmic noise that beg you to listen. Thumping and dancing along, you almost visualize the notes as they play. As if they are hanging over the heads of each musician in the form of a talk bubble.

With each section moving along at the same pace, the same rhythm, and the same accordance, you notice that the end is near. The music is nearing the crescendo – the loudest moment – as you begin to sit forward in your seat. A stanza passes, you wait. A second frame begins and you wait. By the third you are anxiously awaiting the resounding gong, but you remain on the edge. By the fourth you exhale. Every instrument strikes the final note in beautiful harmony, the conductor raises his hands in the air, and the music drops.

It is over.

The auditorium erupts with praise and shouts. The overwhelming experience brings tears to your eyes as you well up with joy.

The time has come. You have made it. The journey is now complete.

This is hockey.

The Oklahoma City Barons have had a remarkable journey deep into games for much of the regular season. Nineteen times this season the Barons played a game into overtime. Thirteen of those games they won, thus putting them into the record books (at the twelfth win) as the team with the most regular season overtime victories. That’s impressive.

But put all of that overtime business behind just for a minute. Let us take a good, long, hard look at the third period. I think this team might be on to something (or just really lucky)

Here is the Barons scoring per period during the regular season:

1st Period – 65
2nd Period – 73
3rd Period – 72
Overtime – 14

The simple version here is that the Barons have scored over 220 goals with good numbers past the second period. That is important.

While the team did not lead the league in the goals, they certainly were able to generate balanced scoring across three periods, and produce late in games. That is not to be taken as a be-all-that-ends-all statement that the Barons refuse to be taken down late, just that they themselves can score in those moments.

What about the Rampage and period scoring?

1st Period – 65
2nd Period – 92
3rd Period – 76
Overtime – 9

In 248 goals score, the Rampage offense scored nearly 38% of their goals in the second period. Whereas the Barons seem a bit more balance, there is a large gap between second and third period scoring, and an even larger one between second and first period.

Again, this is a sweeping accusation, but I think it is important when pressed to the glass of the two games played in the postseason thus far.

So I got curious, and even more curiousier.

When comparing the goals per period in Barons vs. Rampage head-to-head opportunities, it appears the same trend sort of exists, albeit less dramatic

*Barons goals per period vs. Rampage

1st Period – 9
2nd Period – 11
3rd Period – 9
Overtime – 2

Rampage goals per period vs. Barons

1st Period – 11
2nd Period – 13
3rd Period – 8
Overtime – 2
Shootout – 2

Each team’s third period scoring and beyond seems pretty similar in the head-to-head games this season (twelve total).

*Keep in mind that I could be off a goal or two; difficult to find head-to-head goals in a tidy compartment at this time of the year

I think what these numbers tell us is that the Barons and Rampage play close games (something we already know), but also that in two postseason games we are moving towards uncharted waters, and certainly some incredible luck by the Oklahoma City Barons.

Through two games here are the Barons goals per period:

1st Period – 1
2nd Period – 1
3rd Period – 5
Overtime   – 1

And the Rampage through two postseason games:

1st Period – 3
2nd Period – 2
3rd Period – 0

So as the Rampage continue to score early in games, the Barons have found a ton of scoring past the second period. This, according to season-long projections, is a major anomaly. I realize comparing a 76 game season to two is about the dumbest thing you can do. Yet it does shed a tiny bit of light on how incredibly fortunate the Barons have been in the first two games.

Does this mean San Antonio has a chance to win three straight? Absolutely. Will they? It will be tough.

Goaltending, defensive pairs, transactions, forward positions, number of power plays versus penalty kills – these are just a few of my favorite things, or at least things I like to mention when we discuss period scoring.

The Rampage are a highly skilled team, pretty good in net, and for the most part entertaining to watch. They play a brand of hockey I really like. But for some reason they are unable to go deep. Perhaps injuries are to blame. Maybe the Barons are hitting their stride as the Rampage are headed down the long slide on the Chutes and Ladders game board.

Speculating on the outcome of the next three games is difficult. Knowing that the Barons have already won two makes things a bit more challenging for the Rampage. Do we look to historical information to figure out what plays out in game three? You can, but you probably will not like what you see. Unless the history lesson is less than a week old.

Game Two Rewind: Be Still, My Heart

Photo by Rob Ferguson. All Rights Reserved.

It’s too bad that Neal took the “How’d They Do That” caption in his rewind for Game One, because it completely fits my reaction for how Game Two happened. Game Two was split into two completely different games as the San Antonio Rampage controlled thirty-seven minutes, while the Oklahoma City Barons controlled the other twenty-seven. Even now, after getting to think about the game for this long, I still can’t get over how the outcome of the game came to be.

The first period completely belonged to the Rampage. The Barons defense was shaky, the offense couldn’t get anything going, and Laurent Brossoit had eighteen shots to deal with in the first twenty minutes. Goals from Connor Brickley and Corban Knight – on a power play – put San Antonio up 2-0 as the Barons headed to the locker room to sort things out.

Things continued in the same vein at the start of the second as San Antonio controlled the first 6:44, leading to a John McFarland goal and putting the Barons down 3-0. That led to Gerry Fleming deciding to pull Brossoit from the goal and replacing him with Richard Bachman.

Immediately put to the test, Bachman made some big saves against the onslaught from San Antonio, helping to begin the turning of the tides for the Barons. Two penalty kills later, the Barons got a chance on the power play themselves as Vincent Trocheck went to the box for a tripping penalty. Some great tic-tac-toe passing from Josh Winquist and Andrew Miller got the puck to captain Ryan Hamilton, who found the net behind Michael Houser to put the Barons on the board. After two periods, the Rampage held the lead, 3-1.

The only way I can really explain the third period is… wow. I joked in the second period for whoever abducted the Barons team from Game One to please return them. Little did I know, they listened. Oklahoma City tried hard throughout the third period, but Houser was able to keep the Barons at bay.

At the 15:00 mark of the third, the Rampage committed their fourth straight minor penalty with McFarland heading to the box for shooting the puck over the glass. It took 103 seconds of the power play for the Barons to break through, but Jordan Oesterle finally did it as he shot the puck off the post and into the net to make it a 3-2 game.

Over and over, the Barons tried, but the Rampage stood pat as the minutes and seconds ticked off the clock in regulation time. The Barons finally got their chance with Mark Mancari picking up a tripping call of his own, the Rampage’s fifth straight minor, and giving the Barons a power play with 41 seconds remaining. Gerry Fleming used his timeout, and pulled Bachman for the extra attacker.

Matthew Ford took the faceoff, won, and kicked the puck back to Jason Williams. Williams passed it off to Brad Hunt on the right point, Hunt sent it right back to Williams on the left. With the point shot, Williams put it right on Ford’s Andrew Miller’s [edit: The goal was later changed to credit Miller for the goal] stick for the tip, and the Barons tied the game just five seconds into the power play. With the late heroics, the game went to overtime with the game tied at 3-3. After being outshot 31-20 through two periods, the Barons outshot the Rampage 16-9 in the third frame.

Overtime began with the Barons rolling and riding the momentum from the third period. Finally, the Barons found themselves on a two-on-one rush. Sprung by Jordan Oesterle, Matt Ford brought the puck in on the left wing side with Connor Jones on his right. With Dylan Olsen back for the Rampage, Ford passed the puck over to Jones, and Jones ripped it past Houser to give Oklahoma City the huge come-from-behind win in Game Two.

The heart that the team showed in the final half of that game was unlike anything I’ve seen from this team in a long time. They never gave up, never surrendered, and fought their way back from the jaws of defeat. If the team keeps that level of intensity, that level of fight, that level of play – they are going to be a hard team to play against.

With the Rampage on the ropes, the series heads to the Alamo City for Game Three. Wednesday at 7:00 Central, the series continues from the AT&T Center with the Barons leading 2-0 in the best of five series.