Jan
24
2014
Volume
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The Oilbarons' Great Season

TYLER KING
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So far, Fort McMurray’s biggest sports team has gotten off to an historic start. The only remaining question is whether that start can result in an historic finish.

The Fort McMurray Oil Barons began the season with an unprecedented 14-0 record; shattering the team’s previous franchise record of 10-0, set back in 1999.

It wasn’t until their archrival Spruce Grove Saints managed to sneak by the MOB in a shootout 4-3, on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a tough three games in three days trip, that that historic start hit its first speed bump.

But overall, the Barons have found themselves commanding both the provincial and national standings for the vast majority of the year.

There’s no one particular key to the team’s dominating start. For most of the year, the team has been ranked in the top three provincially in both goals for and goals against.

The key to such a strong and deep corps of personnel can be traced back to last season’s trade deadline on January 10, when head coach and GM Gord Thibodeau underwent perhaps one of the biggest roster makeovers the team has seen in years; jettisoning the vast majority of his veteran talent in exchange for players who would be able to help the team in 2013.

Those trades are clearly paying dividends today.

When he sent veteran forward Harry Hendrix to the Drumheller Dragons, a player was promised to the MOB in the off-season. This turned out to be the Dragons’ leading scorer, veteran Ryan Bloom, who has been the pace leader of the MOB all season in points, immediately became an alternate captain on the squad, and has led the entire league in assists for pretty well the entire season.

When he sent WHL pickup Danny Gayle to the West Kelowna Warriors in B.C., fans couldn’t have been sure what they’d get from the forward the MOB received in return, Jetlan Houcher. He’d had a fantastic minor hockey career in Lloydminster; but it hadn’t translated into points at the junior A level.

Thibodeau insisted the key for Houcher was playing time. He was right. Houcher led the Barons in goals after January 10, and in the 2013-14 season has become one of the league’s most feared forwards, not to mention the new team captain.

Finally, when Thibodeau sent captain Brock Maschmeyer to the Nanaimo Clippers, it shocked the vast majority of MOB fans. One of the best d-men in the league had been shipped across provinces, and all the Barons had gotten back was a younger forward named Kevin Miller out of Stony Plain.

Once again, Thibodeau knew exactly what he was getting. Miller developed at a rapid pace in his time with Fort McMurray into a fantastic two-way centre. This year, he has become both a dangerous shooter and sensational playmaker, and was quickly rewarded with a division one scholarship to Ohio State University.

One thing is certain; yet another entertaining playoff run is in the offing for Oil Barons fans, and there won’t need to be any more rebuilding to make that possible.

Photo Captions:

A03I5929 - The MOB and the Notre Dame Hounds from Wilcox, Saskatchewan played an exhibition game to benefit the Dream a Dream 17 charity in memory of Mandy Schwartz, who played hockey for the Yale Bulldogs and died of cancer.

IMG 6121 - MOB Assistant Captain Alex Cromwell (right) and Ryan Donovan of the Notre Dame Hounds grew up together and have played hockey together since they were 8 years old in McKinney, Texas. Then they were opponents in the Dream-a-Dream 17 game as the MOB took on the Athol Murray Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League(SJHL).

Photography by Dan Lines

TYLER KING

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