Nelson has Barons on a Warpath in Pursuit of Playoffs
Oklahoma City Head Coach Todd Nelson and the Barons are on a roll, zeroing in on an American Hockey League Western Conference Playoff Spot
|Photo by OKC Barons/Steven Christy
Todd Nelson has had a unique season at the helm, steering the Oklahoma City Barons in the right direction. The Edmonton Oilers primary development team has made the playoffs every year of Nelson’s term as head coach. That streak has been in doubt for the majority of this season. However, an unbelievable run of games in the last two months has not only placed the Barons in prime position to strike at a playoff spot, but sets them up for perhaps even more success should they make the postseason.
“I think from my point of view, and the coaching staff in general, it’s been gratifying seeing how this team has grown,” Nelson said. “I think there’s a couple of things that came into play with our hockey team. We haven’t had a lot of movement with call ups over the past couple of months, which helps. We have the same group, which we can mould together and get them going in the right direction. I think that’s the biggest thing, we’ve had some continuity here. I think along with that too, just like previous years, we’re seeing our younger players mature and feel more comfortable and confident out there.
“Also with our hockey team, we’re seeing our group be really tight knit. You obviously saw that in our previous three years with our teams with really gelling together at this time of year. I think all of those things come into play and that’s why we’re winning hockey games. We also don’t have the goaltending carousel that we had in November and December so that certainly helps. I think it’s just the continuity of the team and right now, they’re all playing hard for each other and they’re having fun. I think all of those things come into play.”
Heading into a critical weekend, the Barons are riding a 6-0-0-1 hot streak and are 13-2-0-2 in their last 17 games overall. They have brought new meaning to home-ice advantage in Oklahoma City, posting an 8-0-0-1 record during that 17-game stretch. They’ve essentially set themselves up for a shot at unseating the current sixth, seventh and eighth seeded teams, should this play continue.
What changed for the team? Aside from roster consistency (OKC reached over 100 roster transactions on the season in January) and expected development in the younger players, something needed to provide that one little spark to ignite the kindling that Todd Nelson and his coaching staff has been stoking all season.
That spark came in the form of a humiliating defeat on January 24.
“The lowest point for this team was when we got beat 9-3 in Charlotte,” Nelson said. “In that game, we were down. Obviously, we were getting smoked by them. Our players are very proud and wouldn’t leave that building without a fight and literally, I think we had about six or seven fights in the third period and I think that really brought our team together. They were embarrassed and from there, we’ve been on a tear. You’ve got to recognize the situation and yeah, that was a low point. But also, it probably kick started our team in the right direction.”
That kick start lit a fire under the Barons and they haven’t looked back since. They immediately followed up that loss with a win over the Toronto Marlies, one of the top teams in the AHL Western Conference. What followed that up was a February in which the Barons went 7-2-0-1, netting their winningest month of the season to date. They’re 5-0-0-1 in March, heading into this weekend.
|Photo by OKC Barons/Steven Christy|
“Right now, the guys are believing,” Nelson said. “When we were six games under .500, the guys didn’t know what to suspect and then we started gaining momentum and winning games and the guys are felling good about themselves. As long as the guys keep playing the way they are, we’re going to be a tough team to play against. We want to continue this on. We’ve got ourselves in a position where we’re knocking on the door of the playoffs and we want to definitely be in.”
Shortly before the streak began, the Barons head coach and his staff essentially told the players that losing was not an option. They took it to heart.
“As a staff, we told the players we have expectations,” Nelson said. “We expect to make the playoffs every year, we expect to compete for a Calder Cup. We got closer last year and were basically one win away from going to the Calder Cup Finals. We just feel as a staff, our work isn’t done yet. We put those expectations on our players saying, we expect to be in the playoffs and we expect to make noise in the playoffs. All we have to do is get in. It doesn’t matter if we’re the first seed or the eighth seed… With the way that we’ve been playing, we’re a very dangerous team. We had to face a lot of adversity this year.”
Nothing fazes the Barons right now.
The Oilers youngsters could be down a few goals heading into the third period or watch a lead slip away. But as long as there is time left on the game clock, don’t count out OKC. On March 9, the Barons watched as the sixth-seeded Rochester Americans, a team OKC is chasing in the standings, rattled off four-straight goals to take a 4-2 lead into the third period.
Oklahoma City stormed back to not only tie, but to win in overtime courtesy of defenceman Brandon Davidson’s game-winning goal. It was just another day for the Barons.
The Barons have put the AHL on notice; don’t count us out.
“I think what other teams are seeing from us is there’s no give up from the guys,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re tired, playing three (games) in three (nights), our third period always seems to be very, very strong. That’s a testament to the conditioning of the guys and it’s a testament to their will. That’s what we’re seeing from our guys right now. I think teams are starting to take notice and they’re thinking, here they go again, OKC is getting hot at the right time. I think we’re a team, if we get in the playoffs, that will be very tough to beat.”
Their success and fortitude is the mark of a team that puts the team’s goals above individual accolades. It’s a special circumstance that is only beneficial to the continued development of the young Oilers prospects who are biding their time on the farm.
“I think the players deserve a lot of that credit,” Nelson said. “I think what we have here is that we have all of the individual players giving themselves to the team. Every coach wants that. Sometimes it’s hard to achieve it but right now, we as a staff, we’ve got our guys basically caring more about their teammates than they do themselves. They’re playing unselfishly and they’ve really given themselves to the team. When you have that, it doesn’t matter what team you have. It’s very powerful. You might look at a team on paper and it’s not that great but they really work well as a team and they’re hard to beat. Right now, we’re playing good hockey and hopefully that continues. But I think the biggest thing is the players all gave themselves to the team. When you get to the point where the players care about each other more than they do themselves, that’s very powerful.”
This weekend could go a long way in helping the Barons continue their rampage into the playoffs. They host the Grand Rapids Griffins for two games, while head into the weekend tied for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with Milwaukee, who plays the 7th seed this weekend.
“I think, the guys all see the standings,” Nelson said. “They know how we’ve been playing and they know we have to have a big weekend. We’ve still got to catch some teams, like Milwaukee who has a couple of games in hand. But right now, we’re knocking on the door while trying to catch Rockford and Rochester. We want to make sure it doesn’t come down to that last weekend and we’re not worried if we’re going to make the playoffs or not… Like I told the guys, all we’ve got to do is keep taking care of our business, play hockey games and whatever other teams do, that’s their issue. We can’t expect to have help from other teams, we have to just win our hockey games and go on from there.”
Now that the systems are installed, the roster has been allowed to build cohesiveness and the team is building more momentum with every win, Todd Nelson, Gerry Fleming and Rocky Thompson have been able to just open the locker room doors and unleash the young Barons upon their unsuspecting opponents.
“Right now, as a coaching staff, we have them on ‘auto pilot’. The guys know exactly what they have to do out there, they know they have to play the right way. It’s taken us some time to get there but right now, all I have to do is make sure I have the right guys out there and just swing the gates.”
Barons Player Stats | AHL Standings | Barons Schedule | Past Prospect Stats: 2012-13 | 2011-12
Stats Updated as of Thursday March 13, 2014 at 11:30 p.m. MDT
|d||19||65||6||12||18||-4||102||EVERETT SILVERTIPS (WHL)|
|f||19||68||32||48||80||23||75||CALGARY HITMEN (WHL)|
|DARNELL NURSE||D||19||63||13||36||49||-1||91||SAULT STE. MARIE (OHL)|
|F||19||67||30||26||56||-2||68||VANCOUVER GIANTS (WHL)|
|f||19||56||16||26||42||3||52||EVERETT SILVERTIPS (WHL)|
|F||19||68||34||28||62||28||154||EDMONTON OIL KINGS (WHL)|
|F||19||39||9||8||17||-4||14||LONDON KNIGHTS (OHL)|
|24||13||6||19||-10||10||OWEN SOUND ATTACK (OHL)|
|F||24||40||5||8||13||10||138||JOKERIT HELSINKI (FINLAND)|
|F||19||49||2||2||4||2||35||NIZHNY NOVGOROD (RUSSIA)|
|26||39||20||14||4||3.03||.909||OKLAHOMA CITY (AHL)|
|LAURENT BROSSOIT||20||7||2||4||0||3.53||.885||OKLAHOMA CITY (AHL)|
|5||2||1||1||3.63||.901||OKLAHOMA CITY (AHL)|
|22||19||n/a||n/a||n/a||3.12||.894||HPK HAMEENLINNA (FINLAND)|