Photo by Rob Ferguson
2013 was a memorable year for the Oklahoma City Barons. It began with a dominant squad emerging from the Western Conference, and humbly falling ever so close to their first ever trip to the minor league Cup Finals. Offseason changes well up the chain of command drastically shifted the heart of the OKC Barons from infinitely fabulous to instantly prospect driven.
No dedicated “ringer” on the offensive side, prospects re-shuffled/repackaged/re-aligned meant that scoring would become a difficult task. Defensively the tides turned towards the future despite its youth and disorientation. But the team soldiers on.
Todd Nelson looks to 2014, and probably dreams of what might be. With the tiny by comparison roster he’s managing (when compared to last season), there’s very little room for management of lines and pairs outside of the framework laid by Craig MacTavish. We have rarely seen two games where offensively and defensively things felt familiar, but the OKC coaching staff continues to take it in stride.
On the heels of a two-game trip to Abbotsford where they suffered defeat in both contests, the Barons need to change. Richard Bachman needs to steal games, get help from his blue line, and pray for scoring at the other end. Curtis Hamilton needs to build upon the two goal game he had on Saturday, continue to expand his PK goodness, and contribute to his forward partners. Ryan Martindale needs to chase down Anton Lander and Roman Horak on the depth chart. Tyler Pitlick needs to be a raging bull on the boards with agile puck possession tendencies. Every Barons defender, from Klefbom to Fedun and back again needs to emerge as true draft pleasures rather than busts. For a team that is barely on pace for 60 standing points for the season, “up” is the direction of choice.
Statistically speaking, the loss of Linus Omark continues to do damage to the Barons roster. But look who has scored since his trade to the Buffalo Sabres. Kessy twice, Hamilton twice, Marincin once, Martindale once, Acton once, C.J. Stretch once – guys that need to score and develop without guys their slight senior keeping them lower in the depth charts.
Owning a three game losing streak, posting a 2-6-0-2 record in the last ten games, and playing five straight (including tonight) against two of the best squads in the AHL is not the recipe for success that the Barons coaching/management staff had in mind. And tonight, New Years Eve, the Barons play the stingy Texas Stars, a team they recently beat prior to Christmas.
The Edmonton Oilers continue their march of postseason death, and call ups galore (nearing 90 at the half season mark) which continues to paralyze momentum in Oklahoma. Cheering for prospects to score has replaced cheering for the Barons to win, and that’s something we fans aren’t accustomed to. Yet we are dealing.
The route towards right standing gets a bit wider and less treacherous for OKC in January. Utica, San Antonio, Charlotte – teams that are struggling themselves – will all go toe to toe with the Barons in the next thirty days. The separation of teams starts to be prevalent the closer we move to February, and if the “good guys” in orange and blue don’t find the secret to success the season will be over before Cupid draws back his bow.
The uphill battle starts tonight, and we embrace a former hockey legend hailing from OKC, Doug Sauter, who always said “It’s not how many you win before Christmas, but how many you win after.” He clearly has never met an Oilers fan.