“Upside Down”, the late-in-her-career dance track from the Motown legend Diana Ross, takes me back to a moment in time where I lived for weekends at the rink. No, Diana Ross didn’t inspire me to play ice hockey, but rather four wheel roller skating on a wooden floor. When I hear “Upside Down” I’m fondly reminiscent of 4th grade me, grooving to a disco beat in the late 80′s. Although the song came out the year I was born, it’s a given that’d I’d love this one eventually. Disco heavy, instantly memorable, with its Motown hutzpah – there’s no reason to find this karaoke dance track annoying (right???). In fact, the song was written with Aretha Franklin in mind, and instead went to Ross – not a bad plan “B” if I’ve ever heard of one. And for that caliber of voice and artistry, you have to respect this track. Because even long after her prime, Diana was still Diana. And great dance pop is great dance pop.
The song is about catching on to the indiscretions of the one you love, but still finding your stomach turned in knots when you’re around them. And I kind of feel that way about our Oklahoma City Barons. I know their faults, they know their faults, yet I still love them. There’s something sickly magical about following a team that gets back hand slapped by their NHL club in a post lockout world. We knew it was coming, but the blowback has crushed the team in the short term. And in the span of the last four games I’ve cheered loudly knowing full well that I’d likely want to gag when the final horn resounded.
So the squad pulls up its bootstraps, turns to a team from San Antonio, and loudly proclaims, “Upside down, inside out, round and round,” we go. The Oklahoma City Barons host two games this weekend against the San Antonio Rampage.
Oh you Barons and your unsteady play of late. We don’t necessarily judge you for the results of a four game losing streak where you’ve only earned a single standing point. Because you’re not entirely at fault. The NHL lockout ending has forced you to struggle to find your sea legs after the too end of your lineup was cut down quickly.
But the training camps are ending, you’ll get back Chris VandeVelde, Taylor Fedun, and Colten Teubert. Yet those returnees cost you one. His name is Danis, and he was your number one goaltender.
Things will get very interesting in OKC this week. Danis spending time in Edmonton means that we get Olivier Roy as number one in OKC and Tyler Bunz, via Stockton, as the number two. As Todd Nelson has done before, don’t be surprised to see both tenders go this weekend. And for fans in Oklahoma City and Edmonton, that’s a good thing. Seeing goaltending prospects work side-by-side in a close span gives a nice stylistic comparison between the two. That’ll be fun.
This, the eighth meeting between the Rampage and the Barons, finds the teams at slightly different places compared to previous meetings. The Rampage are on the move. Still last in the South Division, they are charging. Not strong enough to suggest they finally have the pieces in the right places to head to the top, but enough so that they likely won’t be in the basement for much longer. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, is headed the wrong direction. After really taking a beating by not having their NHL players in the lineup, they’ve really found it hard to score consistently and defend the puck at all. The problems likely get better, but when is the key.
The nuts and bolts of this series are pretty even – both this season and in the last three years. The Barons own the record of 4-3 against the Rampage this season, and last year it ended 4-4. In what marks the last meeting in Oklahoma City between the two clubs this season, those standing points will be huge for either team. Thus this weekends two-for is going to be a desperate affair.
Don’t think for a moment that the Rampage haven’t made some transactions of late that have quietly made them better or prepared them for a post-lockout AHL. A couple of re-assignments from Cincinnati a PTO, and a handful of returnees from NHL training camp including Markstrom in net, Drew Shore at center, and Colby Robak on the wing have this team ready to go for the second half of the season.
The thing to watch on the Rampage this weekend is their near 85% penalty kill. That’s a remarkable total. And for an OKC team that eagerly awaits and desperately needs man advantages to get things rolling, that’ll be a hard nut to crack. So we’ll see a great power play (on paper) and a great penalty kill. Should make for some frustrating good times.
And so we begin on an expedition into the great unknown. That’s no exaggeration. Seeing how the Barons begin to turn the tide so to speak through the month of January will be key to success around Spring Break. It will also be a good measuring stick for how well Todd Nelson can coach. I believe he’s got the pieces to get things done in the minors, despite losing an incredibly stacked lineup.
With NHL camps ending, and games starting tomorrow (Saturday), the AHL likely goes back to being, well, the AHL. That minor league that is more important than anyone realizes, very few pay attention to, and only recognize its accomplishments when they are other worldly. That’s just the way I like it.