Tonight is game one of the best-of-five playoff series between the Oklahoma City Barons and the Charlotte Checkers.
This is the first time the two teams have met in the post-season. During the regular season, they faced each other eight times where the Barons won the series, 4-3-1.
Although the team has had success in their own arena, posting a 3-1-0 record, forward Mark Arcobello said the team is focusing on game one.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on the first game. We’ve looked at some stuff today, like looking at their team and what we have to do to play against them and be successful.”
Throughout the year, the Barons were able to outscore the Checkers 28-18 but Head Coach Todd Nelson said every line will need to contribute to defence.
“They’re very structured and they play aggressive like we do, so our defence will have to do a great job of breaking out the puck. We have to have good support from our forwards to get low and help.”
“I think just trying to be efficient in our own zone is the biggest thing and another thing about Charlotte, they’re an excellent transition team where if you turn the puck over, it’s going to be a long night for you and we have to make sure we manage the puck very well.”
For rookie Brandon Davidson, this is the first pro-team appearance in the post-season and said he’s ready and excited to start.
“I’m really excited for the playoffs. It’s my first pro post-season experience and I’m really excited. I know all the guys are very excited as well. They got really close last year but didn’t quite go as far as they wanted. I know there is a lot of emotions right now because of the way things went last year so really looking forward to it. I think this is a great opportunity for us to prove ourselves and to make it all the way this year.”
Last year, the Barons were able to sweep the Houston Aeros and defeat the San Antonio Rampage before falling to the Toronto Marlies in the Western Conference Finals.
16 of the players from last year have returned and Arcobello, who was on the team last year, said they’ll have to build on last year’s experience.
“We have that experience of going on a decent run in the playoffs. We know what it takes, we know it’s going to be tough physically and mentally and we’re pretty prepared for it this year than we were last year just because of the experience.”
This year, the Barons finished the season in second in the South Division and fifth in the Western Conference with a 40-24-2 record.
However, the start of the Barons season wasn’t one they were expecting. With the NHL lockout, four Edmonton Oilers players -- Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz -- were sent down to join the team.
“This year has been a very up-and-down season with the lockout going on and having players from Edmonton come down here and some of them not knowing what their future was in front of them. So it was difficult in the aspect where we had these players here, it was great to have them but the thing is we had so many bodies, it was hard to work guys in the lineup so we had to balance that, the best way we could,” said Nelson.
Arcobello agreed with Nelson’s comments about the start of the season and said players had to adapt and learn new roles with the team.
“We’ve had some regular guys here who got sent down to the East Coast League and we’ve had some guys from up top here too. It was a different year because some guys had to find new roles before the lockout.”
But once the lockout ended and Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz went back up, the team had to rebuild once again. The team added some new key players, brought up some players from the Stockton Thunder and worked on consistent goaltending.
“We added Jonathan Cheechoo, we added Brett Clark, a veteran defenceman, Randy Jones. We lost Brett Clark after a month, he signed with the Minnesota Wild but as we were going, we were trying to get more experience on defence and we called up a few guys from the ECHL and strengthened our defence,” began Nelson.
“When you start looking at it, I think our goaltending was a lot more consistent at the start of February. When Yann came back to us (from Edmonton), he’s been pretty hot for us so obviously if you have good goaltending, it gives you a chance to win every night. Consistent goaltending, night in and night out, so when you add those pieces, it makes for a better defence team.”
In the last two months, the Barons went 15-4-4 and on Apr. 20, were able to clinch a playoff spot when they defeated the Abbotsford Heat, 7-3 on Apr. 20.
Puck drop for tonight is at 7:00 p.m. Central Time (6:00 p.m. Mountain Time).