FORT MCMURRAY, AB (October 6, 2013) – Not only was it another franchise record, but it was also the Fort McMurray Oil Barons' (12-0) biggest win of the season, as the MOB took down the Drayton Valley Thunder (1-9-1) by a 9-0 margin in front of 1,699 fans at the Casman Centre on Saturday night.
With the win, the Barons set another franchise record with a dozen consecutive wins to open a season.
Kevin Miller (Stony Plain, AB) led the way offensively with 2 goals and 2 assists, while goaltender Jesse Gordichuk (Penticton, BC) made 26 saves for his first junior A shutout.
Four fights broke out over the course of the game; three of them in the third period as the Thunder resorted to after-whistle scrums as frustration boiled over for the visitors.
“It's frustrating when you get in that situation where, basically, the other team's taking runs at you,” said head coach and general manager Gord Thibodeau. “You expect the referee to take care of that stuff, but I thought we responded well.”
“It's part of the game; it's part of what we're going to have to get used to.”
It only took the Barons a little more than 3 minutes to open the scoring, off a perfectly played rush by the line of Colten Meaver (Edmonton, AB), Adam Durkee (Lafayette, CO), and Hayden Dawes (Stony Plain, AB).
After an interception at neutral ice by defenceman Austin Yadlowski (Edmonton, AB), a pass ahead was carried in along the right side by Meaver; his cross-ice pass found Durkee at the left-wing faceoff circle, whose pass in front was quickly tapped into the net backdoor by a wide-open Dawes for a 1-0 lead.
Before the five minute mark had passed, a point shot by Louis-Joseph Sawyer (Montreal, PQ) produced a rebound for leading scorer Ryan Bloom (Calgary, AB), whose wrister doubled the MOB lead.
On the first power play of the evening, the Barons took fewer than 30 seconds to convert, when a wrist shot by Miller from the right-wing circle beat goaltender Mitch Martell on the far side for a 3-0 lead through 1.
Early in the second, Thunder forward Ty Bettac tried to spark his bench by fighting first-year Barons forward Connor McCallum (Calgary, AB). Though Bettac took the decision, the tilt didn't spark much from the visitors, and in the final minute of the middle frame, Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, NS) set up Mitchell Byrne (Onaping, ON) for a one-time backdoor goal to make it 4-0.
The Barons put the game out of reach in the third with two quick goals in the first two minutes. First, a wrist shot by Hayden Dawes off a centering pass by Kevin Miller made it 5-0 just 56 seconds in. The Thunder responded by taking a slashing penalty, and on the ensuing faceoff, Kaiden Tobin (Stony Plain, AB) converted a rebound to make it 6-0.
This began a long parade to the penalty box for the Thunder. Thunder forward Nathan Smith fought Sawyer, with the MOB defenceman breaking his hand during the tilt. Seconds later, a penalty to Anthony Kapelke was followed by a fight between him and Alex Cromwell (McKinney, TX) of the Barons.
The final fight came just before the 7 minute mark of the third, with Brennan Saulnier getting the clear decision against Brayden Harris, with Saulnier's southpaw style catching the Thunder forward well off-guard.
Less than thirty seconds after Saulnier's decisive win, the Barons made it 7-0 when Kevin Miller tipped a Jetlan Houcher (Paradise Valley, AB) centering pass past Martell. The Thunder continued to respond by taking more penalties, resulting in a Danton Ayotte (Wetaskiwin, AB) power play goal on a rebound just before the halfway point of the third.
For Ayotte, it was his sixth goal over the course of a five-game goal scoring streak
Finally, Saulnier scored a wraparound goal at 12:07 to cap off the scoring, complete his Gordie Howe hat trick, and finally prompt Thunder head coach Mike Mueller to pull Martell in favour of Marc-Olivier Daigle.
“We talked on the bench – that we have something to play for,” said Thibodeau when asked how his team kept its composure in the third. “This streak is something that we're very proud of, and you don't want to give that away because you're being stupid.”
“We didn't need suspensions; we don't want people missing games. Everyone wants to be a part of this.”
Almost lost in the shuffle of the explosive offensive effort was another solid performance by Gordichuk, who stopped 26 shots and lowered his goals-against average to a microscopic 1.25.
“It felt good,” said Gordichuk. “The boys were playing good, and helping me out in any way they can; blocking shots – the boys just played great.”
“He's been everything that we asked,” commented Thibodeau about Gordichuk. “He's been outstanding. We couldn't get a more perfect 1-2 combo; they have a very good relationship between each other, they push each other. I'm very, very pleased for him that he got the shutout tonight.
“I know his teammates like him, and he's a guy that we think has a real bright future.”
The team's attention now turns to a full week at practice and a Friday night road game in Sherwood Park against the second-place Crusaders.
“We're going to have a good week at practice; they'll get a little time to rest here,” said Thibodeau. “We can't wait to get on the road and see where we can take this thing.”
Puck drop Friday night is at 7:00 with pre-game coverage at 6:45 on Country 93.3.
Country 93.3 3 stars:
1. Brennan Saulnier (1 goal, 1 assist, 1 fight)
2. Kevin Miller (2 goals, 2 assists)
3. Jesse Gordichuk (26 save shutout)