FORT MCMURRAY, AB (October 19, 2013) — Down by 1 less than four minutes into the game on what turned out to be a phantom goal, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (16-0-1) scored four straight en route to their seventeenth consecutive game without a loss, defeating the Drumheller Dragons 4-1 in front of 1,664 fans at the Casman Centre on Saturday night.
With the win, the Barons tied the 2007 Camrose Kodiaks for the third-longest unbeaten streak to open a season in the AJHL's 50-year history.
“I wasn't very pleased with our effort, frankly, in some areas,” said head coach and general manager Gord Thibodeau. “I thought that, for the second game in a row, our forwards weren't very strong on the puck. We didn't finish a lot of hits. We started juggling lines in the second period to try to get some spark. We didn't have a whole bunch of energy to start the game.”
“I think it wasn't a very good effort tonight,” concurred first star Kevin Miller, who scored two goals and an assist. “Second period was really rough; Gordie [Jesse Gordichuk] really held us in there. It's been up and down all year; we haven't really played [many] 60-minute games. We've just got to find that.”
“I'm not quite sure what it is; if it's the streak, or whether it's just a need of a bit more dressing room presence, but our starts have been very very poor at home here, and it's got to improve.”
The initial goal came at the 3:28 mark, when a shot from the right wing halfboards by Ryan Suchorab skipped off of the pad of MOB goaltender Jesse Gordichuk (Penticton, BC) and rolled slowly towards the Barons' goal line, before defenceman Brett McNeil (Halifax, NS) cleared it.
However, the referee signalled a goal, and the Dragons had an early lead. Video replays showed that the puck clearly did not completely cross the goal line.
Despite the early deficit, the Barons fought back quickly, tying the game just 2:20 later, when former Dragon Ryan Bloom (Calgary, AB) notched his first of three points on the night, setting up Kevin Miller (Stony Plain, AB) at the right halfboards, who made his way into the slot and fired a wrist shot past Drumheller goalie Adam Beukeboom for to tie the game 1-1.
The Dragons, however, held a 15-9 shot advantage after 20 minutes. They also outshot the Barons 13-12 in the second; but it was the home side with the clear advantage in the decisive middle stanza.
First, a rush by Bloom resulted in a cross-ice pass to captain Jetlan Houcher (Paradise Valley, AB), whose wrist shot from the right wing faceoff circle beat Beukeboom for a 2-1 Barons lead at the 13:10 mark.
At 17:36, Adam Durkee (Lafayette, CO) sped behind the Dragons net, and swept a pass to defenceman John Teets (Fairbanks, AK) at the right point. His wrist shot deflected off of Drumheller defenceman Shayne Gwinner's stick, straight to MOB forward Kaiden Tobin (Stony Plain, AB), who tucked the puck between Beukeboom's pads to make it 3-1 Fort McMurray.
The tenacious visiting Dragons fought hard to regain control in the third, holding the nation's #1-ranked team to just five shots in the frame while firing eight of their own. Just past the halfway mark, a hit from behind by Dallas Smith on Barons forward Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, NS) drew Mitch Byrne (Onaping, ON) to his defence. The rookie Baron jumped Smith in a brief fight that ended with both players being ejected from the game.
With time winding down, Miller put the game to bed with his second of the night at the 17:38 mark, when he collected a perfect centering pass in the slot from Houcher in the right-wing corner, and sent another quick wrist shot into the back of the net to notch the 4-1 final score.
The two-point night for Houcher extended his point streak to 9 games, during which he has scored 9 goals and eight assists. His centre Kevin Miller has now scored in four straight, with 3 goals and 4 assists in that span, while Ryan Bloom now has a seven game streak with 2 goals and 11 assists.
“I wouldn't say I've had success like that in the last five games with anyone,” said Miller, reflecting on his hockey career to this point. “I think we've really been clicking, and I think our chemistry's just been getting better and better over the last few games.”
“I think we're all pretty skilled players; we like to have the puck, we move it well, and Houcher has a great shot; so, give Houch the puck, for the most part.”
Gordichuk extended his league lead in both goals against average and save percentage with a 35-save performance, which, if the 36th save were properly credited, could have been his second career shutout.
“He's been very consistent in all of his starts, and tonight he was very square to the puck.” said Thibodeau. “He didn't let a lot of rebounds in, and frankly I think he should've had a shutout, because I don't think that first goal went in.”
One very clear weak spot for the Barons was the powerplay, which went 0-for-6 while allowing several shorthanded chances to the Dragons.
“The unit gets in trouble when they get outworked, and that's when you give up shorthanded chances,” explained Thibodeau. “Frankly, our defence have gotten outworked in our end a couple of times, and our forwards, again, were pass-happy, and we're in a streak right not when we're not shooting the puck, and as we know, when you start shooting the puck you get rewarded.”
The team is back in action on Wednesday night at home, hosting the Grande Prairie Storm for the first of six meetings this season. Game time is at 7:30 with pre-game coverage starting at 7:15 on Country 93.3.
If the Barons win, they will tie the 1993-94 Olds Grizzlys for the second-longest unbeaten streak to open a season in AJHL history.
Country 93.3 3 stars:
1. Kevin Miller (2 goals, 1 assist)
2. Ryan Bloom (3 assists)
3. Jesse Gordichuk (35 saves, 36 shots)