The Bakersfield Condors are in the midst of quite possibly their toughest road trip of the season, and are doing so without three of their best players – Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, and Iiro Pakarinen.
The journey didn’t start out well as the Condors lost both games in Texas last weekend, dropping 5-4 and 4-2 verdicts to the Stars. The second loss was especially galling after the Condors scored twice in the first period then gave up four straight. Their road trip continues Friday in Stockton and Sunday in San Jose, the two teams directly above the last-place Condors in the Pacific Division.
Bakersfield’s record is certainly not impressive at 2-5-0-1 and it surely doesn’t sit well with the coaching staff. It is also not going over well with the Condors fans who were expecting more considering the depth of high-end prospects the team boasted when the season kicked off. The hometown fans want wins, but that is not the directly responsibility of a farm team. First and foremost the job is to develop talent, and the Condors have sent three of their best prospects to the big club.
That farm-team aspect has very slowly started to sink in with Bakersfield’s hockey fans who were largely unaccustomed to losing their best players when the Condors were at the Double-A level in the ECHL and WCHL. Call-ups in those days were often career minor leaguers (often goalies and enforcers) filling a temporary need at the AHL level before getting dropped back down.
Andrew Miller, an older and middling prospect, was the first call-up to Edmonton but he lasted all of one game. It’s telling that the next batch of players headed to the Oilers was not any of AHL veterans like Ryan Hamilton, Matthew Ford or Brad Hunt. Instead it was Nurse, Pakarinen and Draisaitl who were summoned, and the results have been nothing short of terrific.
“They’re in a good state right now. There’s not enough of a sample down there (AHL) but you have to give them credit. They’ve come up and been a catalyst for our team.” -Oilers coach Todd McLellan on Nurse and Draisaitl, Edmonton Sun
This is what a farm team is for – get your highest-profile prospects ready for the majors.
It’s great for the Oilers that the trio is panning out, but for the Condors and trying to compete in very tough division, their departures leave gaping holes. The Condors have lost five of their last six, though that one win was something that endeared them to the hometown crowd. If the Condors do little else the rest of the way, they’ll save some face with every victory over San Diego, the longest-serving rival of Bakersfield’s at any level of hockey.
While fans are happy about call-ups, more than anything they want to see success and that means wins. They aren’t coming now, and don’t look to be any easier to find with what’s ahead on the schedule and trying do it without three high-end players. November’s slate of games includes two against San Diego, who currently sit second in the Pacific, plus a two-game road trip into Winnipeg to play the Manitoba Moose.
“We’ve got to find a way to keep a lead. We always get off to a good start. Second periods have been tough and we’ve got to get better. Teams in this league are good but we’ve got to play better. You’ve got to make your own luck by working hard. It’s all about the little things, the details. When you get the lead, you start to play cuter and get away from your game and that’s hurting us in second periods. The other team is catching up and then you get frustrated.” -Condors assistant coach JF Houle, Bakersfield.com
Right now, the Condors might wind up getting Pakarinen back but it’s more likely they’ll see Russian prospect Anton Slepyshev get a stint in the minors. His standout training camp hasn’t parlayed into much of anything to start the year and Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli strongly hinted he needs time in Bakersfield to find his groove.
In the interim, the Condors are going to need some players to step up, ones who have yet to really get out of first gear since early October. Now is the time to shine for Jujhar Khaira (one goal in eight games) and Bogdan Yakimov (two goals in eight games), both of whom can boost their standing in the organization by raising their game when the lineup is depleted. The Condors coaches are likely expecting more out of a few others, too, especially Phil McRae, a former St. Louis prospect brought in as a free agent from Europe, who has managed only two goals.
About the only good thing to come for the Condors out of the call-ups to Edmonton has been the additional ice time that has swung to Josh Winquist. The St. Albert native has responded with six points (three goals, three assists) in five games and is one of only two forwards with a positive plus/minus rating (+2). Winquist was the ECHL Condors Player of the Month for October last season and then promptly promoted to OKC where he primarily spent the rest of the 2014-15 campaign.
FROM THE NEST
With two forwards gone to Edmonton and Tyler Pitlick out with a concussion, the Condors called up Alexis Loiseau from ECHL Norfolk where he had four points in six games. He got the bump ahead of Greg Chase who leads the Admirals in scoring (3-2-5 in 6 GP) … Unlike in the past, it’s seems very unlikely the Oilers/Condors will fill holes at the Triple-A level with trades or signings of minor-league veterans considering the number of contracted players in Norfolk including Loiseau, Chase, Marco Roy, Connor Rankin, and Ben Betker … The Condors are carrying three goalies with Ben Scrivens finally getting his visa issues sorted out, but Scrivens might be wishing he still had immigration details to sort out as he’s given up nine goals in two starts. He’s 0-2 with a 4.57 GAA and woeful .857 save-percentage. Those numbers are probably why Eetu Laurikainen has remained in Bakersfield instead of heading to Norfolk.