With Oklahoma City Up 2-0, Game 3 Should Be A Dandy

The Oklahoma City Barons may be up on the San Antonio Rampage two games to none, but that doesn’t mean that this series is over. It certainly means the Rampage have an uphill climb, but it certainly isn’t over.

The heroic comeback on Saturday evening was nothing short of remarkable. Yet it was also extremely lucky. The players who are most likely to score throughout the season are the players also scoring in the post season. Ryan Hamilton with two power play goals and three points. Matt Ford, Andrew Miller, and Brad Hunt with three points in two games. There is Connor Jones with two goals on just two shots including the game winner on Saturday night. Jason Williams, Josh Winquist, and Jordan Oesterle have all contributed. In all, the post season has begun remarkably well. But then there is luck.

Laurent Brossoit was yucky to start game two after being amazing in game one. The decision to pull him after 20+ minutes, facing 24 shots, and letting in 3 was an interesting choice. But one that paid off for Gerry Fleming. Richard Bachman came in at the relief position and was magical. “The Biz” seems ready to make his mark on the Calder Cup run so I expect him to start game three with Dan Ellis (according to Dan Weiss, PxP fella for the Rampage, all-around good guy) at the other end.

In come some interesting players for the Rampage, as they shake things up in their not-so-triumphant return to San Antonio.

Namely Kyle Rau whom was drafted #91 in 2011, just one spot ahead of another collegiate prospect on the Oilers farm, Dillon Simpson. Rau is a 40+ points per season player in four straight at the University of Minnesota. The Big Ten is a competitive league, but it is not producing national titles (save for Michigan, the dominate performer). Yet he is a shifty player, good hands, sort of small, but powerful, and gives Gerry Fleming and crew something to really think about. I like it for the Rampage.

Ryan Hamilton is good to go, as is most of the team. A quick scouting report from practice this week says all are ready to go (those who played in games one and two).

It will be very interesting to see if San Antonio can play deep in this one. To go deep teams have to be able to defend and get solid goaltending. These are two leaky tires in the recent drive of games one and two. Can they fix it? Yes, they are the Rampage. Will they is the question.

The Rampage will raise their Western Division banner this evening, and congrats on a truly historical season for the Rampage. A banner year, a banner season, a banner team – they continue to play with pride. Don’t think for a moment that they will not go out with a fight.

Final Regular Season Homestand Begins Tonight, Bulldogs Welcomed

Photo by Steven Christy

One game has been played between the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Oklahoma City Barons in the season of 2014-15. It was Sunday, January 11th in Hamilton, Ontario when Andrew Miller had a two point night and two more goals were scored by Iiro Pakarinen and Jason Williams en route to a 3-0 domination of the Montreal Canadians farm team. That night Richard Bachman stopped 32 shots, including several early on that were season-long highlights, and the blue-line pushed back on Hamilton forwards allowing only six shots in the final twenty minutes of play. It was a spectacular performance.

A lot has happened since then – the Barons only clinched a playoff berth in the final four games, injuries have deconstructed them, and Richard Bachman might not be the #1. In all it has been a wild back-half to the AHL season, and one that has sent OKC into the sunset with much trepidation.

Tonight the Barons and Bulldogs play again, this time in Bricktown, but the teams look vastly different as the stakes down the stretch get much higher.

Hamilton still has a chance of making the playoffs. It is a slim one, but it is still a chance. Currently in tenth, but with a lone game in hand over Milwaukee, the Bulldogs are going to need help from the Marlies, and not the kind of help the Marlies want to give. With playoff clinching implications in mind, the Barons and Bulldogs might be in for one exciting game.

Led offensively by rookie dynamo, Charlie Hudon, and vet centerman T.J. Hensick the two have combined for well over 100 points and nearly 40 goals. They can play some hockey. Yet the team remains under 200 goals scored, but nearly 200 allowed. That’s an interesting crossing. Hudon, in particular, has cooled down in the back half of the season, and that has been problematic for the team. While the Nick Sorkin’s of the world pick up the slack, the struggle continues.

3-4-3-0 over their last ten games, clearly congruence is a major issue, and this has been a battle all season. Yet they were able to defeat Texas this week, so the team is certainly capable.

A good report on the team can be found here.

Oklahoma City has earned the right to play in the AHL postseason for the fifth time. Quite the achievement indeed. But things were dicey down the stretch, but now they have the opportunity to play with full belly of steam.

The return of Marincin, Musil, and Davidson will help mightily on the defensive side of the puck. Likewise, bringing Curtis Hamilton back in (after his first NHL stint) makes the offensive side of the puck just a tad more robust. With Bachman awaiting the arrival of his first born child, the Barons will rely heavily on Laurent Brossoit who gets the start tonight (27th in 28 games, yowza).

Rumored to be practicing is Kale Kessy, and if he is available for the postseason then the Barons will have a host of depth players on standby.

The good news, again, for OKC is that they can steady themselves in the final three games. They’ve had a brutal February through March, but April brings showers of blessings. Here is hoping that the team is prepped and ready for a battle.

A Look At The Barons Roster, Rampage Tonight

Photo by Steven Christy

UPDATE: Kyle Platzer, recently signing an ELC with the Oilers, has been added to the ATO parade with the Barons. Likewise, Kevin Noble from the Tulsa Oilers has been signed to a PTO.

The Oklahoma City Barons host the San Antonio Rampage tonight. The team from the Alamo city has clinched a spot in the AHL postseason, and by golly tickets are already on sale. With that in mind, tonight’s game could be a tightly wound grudge match or an absolutely debilitating game for the Barons who are in desperate need of wins.

Let’s take a look at what we have to work with.

Healthy RW – C.J. Stretch, Matt Ford, Brad Winchester, Travis Ewanyk, Kyle Platzer (ATO today)
Healthy LW – Ryan Hamilton, Curtis Hamilton, Kellen Jones, Mitch Moroz
Health C – Josh Winquist, Jason Williams, Chase Scahber, Jackson Houck

Josh Winquist has gotten a push lately, and has been showing great signs of improvement. I like that. But I like wins much more. Yet the minutes of Moroz and Houck continue to be protected, but with totals increasing as the injury situation continues to darken. I think you jumble the lines just a bit tonight against the Rampage. Facing a high skill, quickened team means that you gotta win face-offs promptly, and you have to be responsible with the puck. This team is super duper young, yet entirely capable of playing smart.

Healthy RD – Nick Pageau, Jordan Oesterle, C.J. Ludwig
Healthy LD – Brad Hunt, Dillon Simpson, Joey LaLeggia, Kevin Noble (PTO today)

Ironically enough Nick Pageau, only playing his fifth AHL game ever, and C.J. Ludwig are the only true right-handed defenders left in the quiver. The ATO of Denver graduate, Joey LaLeggia, gives the Barons another healthy defensive option. They most recently only played with five healthy blue-liners in a rotation that certainly made Gerry Fleming’s eyes bulge out of his head like Roger Rabbit. He made it work, and he is a better coach for doing so.

LaLeggia, like a lot of players entering in to the pro ranks for the first time, will likely get thrown in to the fire just a bit. If he does stay “true” left than I expect a pairing with Oesterle. Regardless of my opinion, just having the extra skater will help the freshening of the legs in almost all circumstances.

Goaltending – Laurent Brossoit, Ty Rimmer, Tyler Bunz

Brossoit is still the go-to guy. With Bachman returning soon to Edmonton following the death of his brother (prayers for Richard and Devyn and family) the OKC Barons will ride three backstops. Why Rimmer? First of all, the Bako season ends this weekend. They want to give him reps. Bunz is probably still the runner up, but Rimmer, as we have come to find out, is a runner up part B. I’m not convinced Rimmer will play (he hasn’t since mid-January), but he certainly is practicing with the team. You will recall that Rimmer has missed the bulk of the season after being diagnosed with testicular cancer (which he soundly defeated!).

I was asked earlier this week, “Neal, can Richard Bachman make this OKC Barons team better?” My response, “Absolutely.” But he doesn’t solve the major problems the Barons have. Those are three-fold.

1) Defensive Sloppiness

The Barons are defensively sloppy both at the forward position and certainly on the blue line. This has caused Laurent Brossoit to be stung early and often. 2-6-2-0 over the last ten games is frightening to consider. They have been outscored 33 to 24 including a 7-3 spanking over a week ago via Adirondack. About half of those games, however, are a one-goal loss or defeat. This tells me that the Barons are either really bad or they are extremely close to winning, and you can flip a coin as to which it might be on a given night. I point mostly to defense for the goals allowed problem.

2) Lack Of Scoring

Again, the stats above show that scoring is a major issue, but one that can sort of resurrect itself. Ryan Hamilton has been adding points as a good long-in-the-tooth AHL player should at this point in his career. Yet the Barons are getting scoring from Josh Winquist and Mitch Moroz, but other than Hamilton it is hard to tie down a specific goal leader. Andrew Miller and yes, Anton Lander and Iiro Pakarinen continue to leave major holes in the lineup. Andrew Miller is still the team’s leading scoring and he hadn’t quite reached the 60 game mark upon leaving for Edmonton. Jason Williams (49 pts), Matthew Ford (47), and Brad Hunt (47) are the only players with 40+ points on the season. Who will the team turn to? I’ll get back to you on that.

3) Injuries

Of course, injuries are killing this team. The list – Juhar Khaira, Steve Pinizzotto, Connor Jones, Kale Kessy, Akim Aliu, Tom Mele, Bogdan Yakimov, martin Gernat, Kellan Lain


The Rampage are just killing the averages, and lately seem unbeatable as they secured their spot as the West Division leader. Nine victories in a row, 43 wins on the season, one of the hottest teams in the league – you don’t want to face them in the playoffs. You also don’t want to face them if your team is skidding out of control heading in to the post season.

San Antonio is 8-1-2-0 against OKC this season. Six of the eleven games have been decided by at least a goal, but there have been some lopsided decisions of late including the February 28th win by OKC where the Barons scored four unanswered.

The game starts at 7pm central, and should be interesting given the newly added Houck and newly newly added Kyle Platzer. Go Barons!

Barons Begin Road Trip (Hopefully No Stumble) Against #2 Griffins

Photo by Steven Christy

When you trip sometimes you fall. Sometimes you catch yourself, pull friends down with you, spill your coffee, twist an ankle, scuff up an elbow, or split your pants. Simply “falling” sounds better.

A road trip like the one the Oklahoma City Barons will entertain for three days will be a test, and here is hoping that they avoid catastrophe.

The team has only gone .500 over their last ten games yet still have retained their top spot in the Western Conference. By comparison, the Grand Rapids Griffins have gone 8-0-2 in their last ten but 10-0-2 in their last twelve. They’ve won eight straight on a tear through the lumpy Midwest. The Griffs experienced a trip, but instead of falling or stumbling or making a fool of themselves, they’ve taken steps to becoming the best in the West.

So the two go head-to-head tonight with Laurent Brossoit in net and Peter Mrazek (current AHL player of the week) at the other end. One of the league’s best scorers in Teemu Pulkkinen facing off against an Andrew Miller who is ten points behind. Scoring defender Nathan Paetsch against a similar player in Brad Hunt. The team’s match up with one another very well, and if you watch one game in March, this might be the one to consider.

The Barons have added C.J. Ludwig to round out the bottom pairing on defense, and Akim Aliu to add a bit of angst to the forward core in the absence of Steve Pinizzotto.

Game starts at 6:00pm central time. Tune in, this one is going to be a good one.

OKC Barons Host Lake Erie Monsters This Weekend

Photo by Steven Christy

The weekend has arrived and so have the Monsters. Not Godzilla. No Bigfoot. No Babadook (if you’ve not seen this film, see it with the lights on). Instead we get the always ferocious group of hockey folk from Ohio (God’s country) where there just might be a scary creature hiding in the waters, but most certainly on the ice.

The Lake Erie Monsters are having a rough go this season. Just barely over .500 mid-way through the season, the team from the Cleveland area can’t seem to pull the strings to get Pinocchio to dance. Coming off two big wins against San Antonio, and two losses against the Iowa Wild, the Monsters are attempting to gain as many points as they can before the hunt for playoff spots officially begins.

Nestled in eleventh place in the Western Conference just behind Hamilton and Texas, they are the only team in the league who haven’t passed the 41 game mark. This means they have games in hand on everyone as we march in to February, and that’s good news even for team’s with the worst of luck.

The Monsters are a team that can score (115 goals on the season), but struggle to keep the puck out of their own net. Tied for the second most goals allowed in the Western Conference, the squad is really out-matched defensively. Those same defenders love to score, they just don’t love to defend, and that’s a problem (also see Brad Hunt).

Led by two defenders (one currently with the squad), the point snatchers for the Monsters are Maxim Noreau and Stefan Elliot (the latter with Nashville at the moment). Behind them are five Monsters with twenty points or more including three with ten or more goals a piece. While strong defending is usually a mark of the Monsters, the forwards on this squad have a tendency to be burned. Not good.

With save percentages above .900 the two Monsters tenders to watch are Calvin Pickard, who gets the most starts, and backup Sami Attokallio. While the percentages suggest they aren’t entirely awful, they both are very close to allowing three goals a piece per game, and that’s probably a big problem. Again, both blue line defending and offensive posturing are issues, so these goaltenders aren’t entirely to blame.

What the Monsters are saying:

Agozzino had a goal and an assist last time out to help the Monsters to a win, and he has become the second Monster this season to notch goals in three straight games.  Agozzino has 10 goals on the season.  Agozzino is also plus-four over his last two games and plus-six over his last five games.

Look for a Bachman / Brossoit double-take at home this weekend. Bachman is in the top ten in the most important statistical categories in the AHL (Saves, Wins, SV%), and Brossoit has show flashes of brilliance. Both have things to prove, and will look to further enhance their teams chances of remaining the best team in the West.

Ryan Hamilton, Josh Winquist, Kale Kessy, and Kellan Lain remain on the injured list for the Barons, but luckily all seven defenders on the team are healthy. No news on whether or not a call-up is coming to replace the injured Nikitin in Edmonton, but I assume it happens sometime this weekend. Assume for a moment that Davidson goes, that allows Gernat/Musil to play more consistent minutes without healthy scratches. That’s good news.

Gernat / Musil / Marincin have all been wildly inconsistent, but a good break might have done them well. Look for these three specifically to prove themselves down the stretch. They need to make good on some sideways play for the last three weeks.

Big things are happening for the underdog, Iiro Pakarinen. He responds well to being centered by Bogdan Yakimov which points every bit to the sensational play by the centerman that Edmonton really really wants to be a good one.

From the team:

“It was important to get back on our skates after a well deserved break. We have a lot of guys banged up, and the break has given us a time to get them back in.” – Gerry Fleming

The game begins tonight at 7pm. See you then!

Oklahoma City Travels North, Grand Rapids Griffins Tonight

The 12-4-2-2 Oklahoma City Barons battle the 9-8-2-0 Grand Rapids Griffins on their first trip to the North of the season. For Oklahoma City the game means they can gain a few points in the standings, and potentially a stranglehold on the top spot in the West Division while also gaining ground in the entirety of the Western Conference.

Not long ago it was the Griffins that defeated the Barons in the Western Conference Final (amid some tornadic activity, literally) to become the best team in the American Hockey League. Since that time the teams have played only a handful of times, but the competition has remained high.

Toting a goaltender that shoulders a lot of the burden, Tom McCollum is starting to pave the way for the Griffins to become a better squad. 6-3-0-1 in their last ten games points to a team that is finally starting to come around despite a recent loss to Toronto where the Marlies crushed GR in the final twenty minutes of play.

But they are on the up, and that conjures up fear in the heart of this Barons fan, even with the fantastic nature of play in recent days. Grand Rapids plays Oklahoma City well. There is no denying that.

The offensive world of the Grand Rapids Griffins revolves around three key players – Teemu Pulkkinen, Andy Miele, and Mitch Callahan. 23 / 16 / 16 points for those three with Pulkikinen second in the league in scoring, and Miele driving an insane +30 shooting percentage. They can score some goals on this squad, but it seems they have another secret weapon.

Penalty killing can be an art form, and the Griffins paint with a broad stroke. Sure they are one of the least penalized teams in the Western Conference, but when they do suffer a penalty they are quick to kill it. Any advantage that team’s might have over them on the power play is potentially squashed on a regular basis. Several weeks ago this might have been bothersome to the Barons, but with the cooling down of their power play just a bit, they will need to work extra hard to find offense with an extra attacker.

The other potential wrinkle to the play of the Griffs is first period scoring. They win a lot of their games in the first period, which means teams need to come out challenging every possible angle. Goaltenders like Brossoit and Bachman will need to be on point from the first drop of the puck.

After a five game home winless streak through October and November, the Griffins have won their last four at home. The promise of “battening down the hatches” has paid off, and the team has been a much better squad at home in recent weeks. They’ll look to better than number tonight.

Defensively they have some cracks, and are prone to an occasional odd man rush. They also have a tendency to be awkward in their own zone, especially in clogging up passing and shooting lanes which forces some pretty high shots against.

Oklahoma City will look to Curtis Hamilton, Iiro Pakarinen, Anton Lander, and of course leading scoring, Jason Williams to provide offense. Yet in the bottom six of the forward group is where the battles will be won. Travis Ewanyk, Kale Kessy, Jujhar Khaira, etc. will be tasked with challenging the GRG top trio which will be a tough job. They have proven they are an agile group that is more skill than gruff, and that might force the top two lines of the Griffins to play a more careful game.

Richard Bachman and Laurent Brossoit will probably go one two this weekend with both flip flopping in the second game in Milwaukee. Both have been very good with Brossoit closing the gap on Bachman in the stats department.

Kellan Lain has been quiet since joining the Barons, and was subject to the healthy scratch rotation only a game ago. He needs some kind of awakening game to get the organizations attention. Likewise, recently called upon Bakersfield Condor, Josh Winquist could make a name for himself in a game against Grand Rapids. After rookie camp and main camp injuries this offseason, WInquist remains an unknown commodity for the most part, and the call-up might just be a display case for his trophy of skills.

The game is a 6:00pm Central Time puck drop, so eat an early dinner. Go Barons!