From worst to… first?
It could very well happen for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
A year ago the Oil Barons had a rather disappointing season, winning a league-low of just 10 out of their 60 regular season contests.
Then tragedy struck in Fort McMurray during the off-season. A massive wildfire, which began in early May and wasn’t under control until early July, destroyed about 2,400 homes and buildings.
While Fort McMurray rebuilds, the Oil Barons have certainly done their share to bring some pride back this hockey season.
The club finished atop the league’s eight-squad North Division regular season standings with a 44-14-3 record. With their 91 points, the Oil Barons had a whopping 61-point improvement from a year ago.
And now the Fort McMurray side is considered one of the favourites to capture the AJHL championship this year.
In fact, should they keep racking up victories this postseason, the Oil Barons could even advance to the RBC Cup tournament, the national Junior A finals.
The Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Cobourg Cougars will be hosting the 2017 national tournament. The five-team event will be staged May 13-21.
Instead of thinking about winning an AJHL title or advancing to the nationals, Fort McMurray head coach/general manager Tom Keca said his charges have a simpler goal.
“The goal is to be playing the best hockey we can,” he said. “If we’re able to win the league and go on that would be great.”
By finishing atop their division in the regular season standings, the Oil Barons received a bye in the opening round of the AJHL playoffs.
Fort McMurray is now in the midst of a best-of-seven divisional semifinal series with the fourth-seeded Bonnyville Pontiacs. Thanks to a 3-2 victory in double overtime in Game 4 on Wednesday, the Oil Barons are enjoying a 3-1 series lead.
Fort McMurray can wrap up the series and move on to its divisional final with another victory in Game 5 on home ice on Friday.
The Oil Barons might very well be heading for an eventual matchup in the AJHL finals against the defending league champion Brooks Bandits.
“They’re a very good team,” Keca said of the Bandits. “They only lost five regular season games in regulation time all year. And they are the measuring stick for our team.”
Fort McMurray beat Brooks in one of its three regular season meetings this year.
The top-seeded Bandits have already qualified for the South Division finals. They’ll face second-seeded Okotoks Oilers in a best-of-seven affair beginning Mar. 31.
As for the Oil Barons, Keca said his charges are hoping to continue their winning ways – not only for themselves but for their loyal fanbase in Fort McMurray.
“A large part of our success was the fact the guys wanted to repay the community,” he said.
As their regular season mark and playoff successes indicate, the Oil Barons have certainly done their share to lift spirits in Fort McMurray.Back to Top
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