Charlotte owns home-ice advantage but the Oklahoma City Barons will be favored in a first-round, best-of-five Western Conference AHL series.
The primary reason? Experience in goal.
The Barons have Yann Danis, last year’s AHL Goaltender of the Year. The 32-year-old veteran with 148 career AHL wins has gone 10-3-3 with a 1.77 goals against average and .931 saves percentage since he returned from Edmonton six weeks ago.
The Checkers’ top two goalies — Justin Peters and Dan Ellis — are in the NHL with Carolina. Peters might return but the club might not want to expose him to waivers.
Charlotte might be forced to ride Rob Madore, who spent most of the year in Double-A. But Madore has played well since a late-season call-up, going 5-3-2 with a 1.83 GAA and .951 saves percentage.
The primary reason the Barons are favored is they’ve been the league’s hottest team, going 13-3-3 since March 10th. The Barons have outshot 14 of their last 15 opponents.
“Now is the time to get hot,” said center Mark Arcobello. “We’re peaking. It’s a great sign. We just want to keep it going. It won’t be easy. You have to take it one game at a time. But we’ll have a good shot if we play the way we’ve been playing.”
The key to the series could be which team wins the special teams battle. In the 30-team AHL Charlotte ranks third in penalty killing (86.5 percent) and fifth in power play production (20.2 percent), the top combination in the league.
But stats can be deceiving. Oklahoma City has the No. 1 power play unit (21.6 percent) but hasn’t been as productive since Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz returned to Edmonton after the NHL lockout.
The Barons are 30th, dead last, in penalty killing but has been the league’s best unit as of late, killing 43 of the last 44 penalties the past xx games, a 97.7 percent clip.
“Our (good) penalty kill and (improved) defensive play has to continue,” Nelson said. “All the things we’ve been doing down the stretch we have to stay consistent in the playoffs. If we do that we’ll have an opportunity to win. But it should be a good series.”
The Checkers have home-ice advantage but the Barons are 8-1-2 on the road the past six weeks. And Oklahoma City won three of four in Charlotte.
Still, it puts pressure on the lower seeded team if it doesn’t sweep the first two games at home with Games 3, 4 and 5 on the road.
“Obviously we want to be in the drivers’ seat and win the first two at home,” Nelson said. “But we feel pretty comfortable on the road. Down the stretch we had some success on the road. That’s comforting. We feel it doesn’t matter where we play.”
You can’t put much stock in eight regular season meetings. The Barons won four of six when Eberle, Hall and Schultz were in OKC.
Charlotte swept two games Jan. 11-12 at the Cox Convention Center but Danis wasn’t with the Barons at that time. Plus, it was the week after the NHL lockout ended when the Barons were undergoing a roster makeover.
“We haven’t seen each other in quite a while,” Nelson said. “One thing we do know is Charlotte is a hard-working team that plays a good system and is good on special teams. But we have such different looks.”
Because they’ve been on the bubble the past month, the Barons have been in a playoff mindset the past four weeks.
“That helps,” Nelson said. “But it should be a good series. We have a lot of similarities. Both teams play their system well. Special teams will be the key… But we feel good about it based on our play as of late.
“But the thing about is the playoffs are a clean slate. We just have to be consistent and play the way we’ve been playing.”
Head to head stats: The two teams split eight regular season meetings, each team winning three games on the road.
Philippe Cornet scored eight points for OKC in seven games against Charlotte. Arcobello, who finished third in the league, scored six points. Jonathan Cheechoo, signed mid-season, scored five points in five games. Toni Rajala scored five points in eight games.
Charlotte’s leading scorer, left winger Chris Terry, has 60 points for the season and scored eight points in eight games against the Barons. Zac Dalpe scored six points in four games.
The Oklahoma City Barons are in good shape to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Regardless how other playoff contenders fare the Barons automatically earn a playoff berth if they collect three standings points in three home games this weekend — games Friday night and Saturday night against Abbotsford and a Sunday matinee against Houston.
Oklahoma City can clinch a berth Friday night with a win over Abbotsford and a Rockford loss.
“This weekend is pretty important,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Basically our fate is in our hands. I’d like to take care of it Friday night. I don’t want to be sitting around Sunday night and watch other scores from around the league. Friday night will be very important.”
The Barons, 8-2-2 in their last dozen games, could be a dangerous draw as a lower seed. The past five weeks they’ve been as hot as any team in the American Hockey League.
“The last couple of months we’ve been playing similar to the way we were playing last year,” Nelson said, referring to a run to the Western Conference finals. “We’ve been getting contributions from different people. All the guys are doing the little things. That has to continue.”
Oklahoma City has outshot opponents in 11 of its last 12 games, allowing only 24 shots a game.
The penalty kill unit has been near flawless. The Barons have allowed only one power goal the last 34 times they’ve played with a man disadvantage, a dazzling 97.0 penalty kill percentage their last 14 games.
“It’s been everything,” Nelson said. “We’ve really improved defensively and our guys have been doing a good job on the penalty kill,” Nelson said. “That’s been drastically improved. Our power play, even though we didn’t score the past game has been chipping in every now and then.”
Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz played only three months with the Oklahoma City Barons but was so dominant he has been named the American Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Year, entitled the Eddie Shore Award.
Schultz scored 48 points, including 30 assists, in 34 games with the Barons. During his three-month stay in OKC Schultz tied the franchise record by scoring at least one point in 10 consecutive games. He also had a nine-game point scoring streak.
Schultz is the first rookie in the 55-year history of the AHL award to earn the honor. Since joining the Oilers after the NHL lockout ended, Schultz has scored 21 points in 42 games with Edmonton. He’s the NHL’s top scoring rookie defenseman.
After three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Schultz became a free agent through a loophole and signed with Edmonton last summer. He began his pro career in OKC during the NHL lockout.
Schultz’s specialty is special teams, a rare blue liner who can quarterback the power play. Of his 48 points with the Barons 25 came with the man advantage which still leads the Barons in power-play production. He also accounted for two of the Barons’ five shorthanded goals this season.
Despite spending half the season in the NHL Schultz has received four AHL awards. Last week he was named to the All Rookie Team and also was named a first team AHL All Star.
While in OKC Schultz was named AHL Player of the Month in October and selected the AHL Rookie of the Month in November.
The Oklahoma City Barons are celebrating military and first responder service Friday night during their home game against the Abbotsford Heat.
Even though the game starts at 7 p.m. festivities start at 3:45 when a group of Oklahoma City police and fire fighters square off with a group of police and fire fighters from Dallas. The winner earns the Chad Peery Cup, named for the Oklahoma City police officer permanently injured two years ago attempting to break up an altercation.
Fans wishing to attend the 3:45 p.m. game are asked to enter the building after 3:15 p.m. at the northeast entrance. Seating for the Guns-N-Hoses game is limited to sections on the east side of the Cox Convention Center.
A portion of the proceeds from tickets purchased through the Barons office will benefit the Chad Peery Foundation. Fans will need to mention “Guns n Hoses” when calling the Barons office for the funds to be donated to his foundation. Representatives from the Chad Peery Foundation will have a presence on the concourse during the game. Donations will be accepted during the game.
The first 3,000 fans will receive red, white and blue rally towels with the Barons logo.
For the second consecutive season, the Barons are participating in their Seats for Soldiers program. Individuals or companies may purchase tickets for Friday’s game that will be donated to local retired and active duty military service men and women. Last season, the Barons donated over 500 tickets.
Barons defenseman Brandon Davidson, who returned after undergoing cancer treatment during the season, has been named the 2012-13 winner of the Fred Hunt Memorial Award as the American Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey.
Davidson was diagnosed with testicular cancer early in the season and returned to play three months after the initial diagnosis. In November, Davidson had the cancerous tissue removed and underwent one round of chemotherapy.
Following successful treatment, the 21-year-old Davidson returned to the Barons lineup in February. Primarily a defenseman, Davidson started that game and played the first shift as a forward.
Davidson was assigned by the Edmonton Oilers’ to their ECHL affiliate in Stockton, Calif., to work on his game. With Stockton he scored 12 points in 11 games. He was promoted to Oklahoma City on March 10 and has been a valuable member of a young defensive corps that’s improved significantly late in the season.
The Oilers’ sixth round draft choice, selected 162nd overall in the 2010 draft, Davidson has scored five points in 22 games with the Barons.
Th Hunt award, voted on by coaches, players and members of the media in each of the league’s 30 cities, was first presented by the AHL in 1978. It honors the late Fred T. Hunt, who won three Calder Cup championships as a player and three more as a general manager during a career spent primarily with the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons.
This is the second time a member of the Barons, in their third season, has won the award. Bryan Helmer earned the award during the 2010-11 season.
The Edmonton Oilers, NHL affiliate of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Barons, fired general manager Steve Tambellini on Monday, announcing former coach Craig MacTavish will replace Tambellini.
The change won’t affect the Barons. In fact, Kevin Lowe, the Oilers president of hockey operations, pointed out during the press conference the Barons are on the brink of making the playoffs for the third consecutive season. He added the organization is encouraged about the future based on players that have made progress in Oklahoma City the past three seasons.
Edmonton has seven games remaining during an 48-game abbreviated season that was delayed by the NHL lockout which ended in early January. But after losing their past three games it appears the Oilers will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.
Lowe reiterated the organization’s young nucleus has a bright future, including several players that played with the Barons three months during the NHL lockout, young stars like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz.
MacTavish played in the NHL for 17 seasons and coached the Oilers from 2000-2009. MacTavish was hired last summer as vice president of hockey operations.
“We are not where we want to be or should be,” Lowe said at the press conference. We felt it was important to make changes right now.”
Barons defenseman Alex Plante has been named the team’s Specialty Man of the Year for his contributions to the Oklahoma City community and will be one of 30 finalists for the American Hockey League Yanick Dupre award.
One of six players who has played parts of all three seasons the Barons have been in Oklahoma City, Plante and other teammates have been actively involved in Special Olympics Oklahoma as part of the Barons Buddies program which pairs a player with a Special Olympics athlete.
This season Plante was paired with Macey. The bond between the two extends beyond four organized events. Plante has actively been involved with Macey’s family, including visits to her house on a regular basis and attending some of her occupational therapy classes.
Plante also volunteered to be part of a public service announcement that asks citizens to not use “the R word” when referring to Special Olympics athletes.
The Brandon, Manitoba, product also has been active the Oklahoma City Youth Hockey Association.
The winner of the AHL Man of the Year award will be announced on April 18. The award is named after Yanick Dupre, a former AHL All-Star who died in 1997 following a 16-month battle with leukemia.
Barons defenseman Justin Schultz, who played less than half a season in the American Hockey League before the NHL lockout ended, was named first-team All-AHL on Thursday.
Although he hasn’t played in the AHL since Jan. 5, joining the Edmonton Oilers after the NHL lockout ended, Schultz scored 48 points, including 18 goals in 34 games with the Barons.
Schultz still leads all AHL defenseman in scoring despite playing with Edmonton the past three months. He’s tied for third among AHL rookies.
The former Wisconsin University star has scored 20 points in 34 games with Edmonton. Schultz is sixth among NHL rookies in scoring, easily the top scoring NHL rookie defenseman.
This is the third consecutive season the Barons have had a player named to the AHL first team. Forward Alex Giroux made it in 2010-11 and Yann Danis was the first team goaltender last season.
The Oklahoma City Barons have signed C.J. Stretch to a player tryout contract. This is Stretch’s second stint with the Barons.
Stretch, who has spent most of the season with the Ontario Reign in the ECHL, scored six points in 10 games with the Barons.
Stretch scored 62 points in 60 games with Ontario, including five goals in Ontario’s four-game sweep of the Utah Grizzlies in the first round of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs.
Before turning pro, Stretch played five seasons with the Camloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League, scoring 248 points in 341 games in four full seasons.
Defenseman Justin Schultz played less than half a season in the American Hockey League before the NHL lockout but played so well in 34 games with the Oklahoma City Barons that he’s still among the top scorers which is why he was named to the AHL All-Rookie team on Wednesday.
A free agent who signed with the Edmonton Oilers last summer after three years at Wisconsin University, Schultz scored 48 points, including 18 goals for the Barons. Schultz remarkably still leads all AHL defenseman in scoring despite playing with Edmonton the past three months. He’s tied for third among all AHL rookies.
It’s highly likely Schultz also will be named to the NHL All-Rookie team.
In 34 games with the Edmonton Oilers Schultz has scored 20 points. Schultz is sixth among NHL rookies in scoring, easily the top scoring rookie defenseman.
When Schultz left Oklahoma City after the NHL lockout ended he was second in the AHL in scoring behind Barons teammate Jordan Eberle.