“It was a game where we got off to a slow start. Once we got going we were fine, but it was too little too late. We have to be resilient.” That’s Barons Coach Todd Nelson in Sunday evening’s pre-game interview explaining how they lost the night before.
Resiliency by definition has a springy description. To bounce back or spring into form – all are characteristics of recent Oklahoma City Barons attempts at sound hockey. Yet sometimes they become stiff, unable to spring back to the form with which they came. And this weekend we’ve seen both sides of this equation. Sunday, in particular, just might be the new definition of resiliency.
The first period seemed oddly familiar. The Oklahoma City Barons would out shoot the Chicago Wolves, fourteen to nine, and have some incredibly perfect scoring opportunities. Jonathan Cheechoo, Tyler Pitlick twice, and Ryan Martindale danced on the doorstep of stingy goaltender Matt Climie, but couldn’t break him. Likewise, the Wolves whipped the puck around quickly, were able to get the puck in deep consistently, but Yann Danis was in fantastic form for the first twenty minutes.
Despite a handful of penalties by both squads, no one was able to nudge to the front of the pack. The Barons and Wolves would be tied after a very swift first period of play.
The second period was quite different than the first. The Barons seemed to slightly revert to their sluggish ways, and immediately would be punished for it. Following a textbook tripping penalty starring Toni Rajala, Brett Sterling scored the first goal of the game for the Wolves. His 22nd of the year, Sterling has a wicked dangerous shot on that right side, and the Barons now realize that. Almost a minute later, Andrew Gordon would shimmy his way through defenders, following some very poor passing by OKC at the other end, and sneak his eighteenth goal of the year past Danis.
Suddenly the Barons were again in a hole, where they found themselves in the previous two games (one ended in a comeback, the other in defeat). But as we saw on Friday, sometimes it takes a tiny spark to ignite a wildfire. And that came by way of a subtle tweak at the 13:08 mark of the period when Coach Nelson, matching lines, placed Chris VandeVelde between Philippe Cornet and Jonathan Cheechoo. I initially assumed it was because of an injury to normal first line center, Mark Arcobello, but instead he pinched in between Toni Rajala and Teemu Hartikainen. There’s your spark.
Taylor Fedun would chase a loose puck into his own zone, bring it up ice, it would be coddled near the boards for a while until Hartikainen received a centering pass, dead middle, from Arcobello to score for OKC. That subtle line maneuver instantly caused a forceful change, and this was only the beginning.
The Barons would round out the second period with some great skating and protecting from the defense, and multiple, intense rushes from the forwards. The ping-pong nature of the first forty minutes ushered in a momentum swing in favor of Oklahoma City post-Teemu goal scored.
Danis remained good in the third, as did Climie. However, as the game hit the final ten minutes, the Barons finally fond the little cracks in the Climie facade. Tyler Pitlick somehow centered the puck towards Climie where it would hit Ryan Martindale’s stick as he jabbed in the second Barons goal of the night. A tie was in order for only a brief moment as Toni Rajala would score a pair of goals, including one on the power play, to put the Barons up by two. An empty netter by Philippe Cornet in the waning minutes sealed the fate of the Chicago Wolves on Sunday.
The Barons comeback was complete as they’d defeat the Chicago Wolves, 5-2.
I said in yesterday’s recap that I thought the Barons were being overcautious with their play. My conspiracy theory was based on two things. First, my own eyes were telling me that they indeed were shooting the puck a bunch, just not in an outside-the-box fashion. And when you’re as good as Matt Climie has been, you have to be creative. Second, minor penalties. Saturday they only had one minor penalty. On Sunday, they had three in the first period. Only one of those was of the undisciplined variety, the other two were roughing and goaltender interference. The OKC Barons tip toed ever so gently to “the line”, and didn’t jump over it. They played rough and tough, but not dumb. I like the tenacious spirit this team showed tonight, and it paid off dearly.
The “2nd Round” line of Curtis Hamilton – Ryan Martindale – Tyler Pitlick played the best stretch of hockey the three have played, together or separate, in a very long time. Hamilton, with his great hands. Martindale, with his face off winning marvels. Pitlick, with his strong play around the boards. Combined they are Teemu Hartikainen, but separate they bring a very unique wrinkle to the Barons third line. I’d like to see this again, and more often.
The change of CVV to the top line, and Arcobello to the second seemed to quietly change the dynamic of how both lines were playing. Is some of that luck? Yes. Is some of it that thinking outside-the-box thing? Yes. I’m surprised it took this long for Todd Nelson to make a move like this, but I’m sure glad he did.
Teemu with a three point night. Mark Arcobello with three as well. Toni Rajala with two. It was a nice night of scoring, and really a good night for a few prospects that needed to further move themselves along. Toni Rajala, in particular, showed that he has the chops to get goals scored on the power play. His manipulative hockey hands just cause so much catastrophe for defenders. I love it.
The Barons don’t get much of a breather after a heated threesome this weekend. They’ll hit the road for four straight games beginning Wednesday in Houston. They’ll then travel to Rochester for Friday, and Hamilton on Sunday, followed by Toronto on the next Tuesday. Once that’s in the books, they finish the season at home with two against Abbotsford and the finale against Houston. Win. Win. Win.