Ryan O'Marra kills.
As a penalty kill specialist, his job with the Oklahoma City Barons is to kill whatever advantage or hope the opposing team has during a power play.
If O'Marra played for the Thunder, he would be Thabo Sefolosha.
If he played football, he'd be the headhunter on special teams who always seems to be in the middle of the action, either making the stop or a key block.
In baseball, he'd flash his glove. O'Marra is a Toronto Blue Jays fan and compared his role to that of former Toronto infielder John McDonald, who has a career batting average of .238, but has been in the big leagues for 13 seasons.
Fans sometimes don't fully appreciate these players, but teammates and coaches certainly do.
The Barons (12-5-0-1) have become one of the top teams in the AHL, and coach Todd Nelson said having players like O'Marra who accept their roles is a big reason why.
Heading into this weekend's three-game road trip at Grand Rapids and Rockford, the Barons rank fifth in penalty kills.
“Those guys take great pride in the penalty kill and it's showing,” Nelson said. “They're doing a great job. It hurts to block shots, but those guys take pride in that.”
Though offensively skilled as a junior player, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound O'Marra knew if he was going to make it to the NHL, he had to find a niche.
“Once I turned pro, I had to change my game completely – become physical, defensive, a PK specialist,” said O'Marra, who played 24 games the previous two seasons with the parent Edmonton Oilers. “I wasn't a PK guy immediately. It took time to earn. My first year, it kind of took a little while to grasp what I had to do and I've embraced it more and more. The last three years, it's a role I cherish and it's something I take pride in.”
After every Barons penalty, O'Marra and fellow PK specialist Hunter Tremblay immediately take the ice. Nelson said he hopes the tandem is able to get in three high-intensity shifts in a two-minute span.
“I'm proud of where we are as a team. It's been the whole group,” O'Marra said. “I've got good rapport with Hunter when we're out there. Obviously, your best penalty killers are always your goalies, and our goalies (Yann Danis and David LeNeveu) have been outstanding for us.”
The affable, 23-year-old O'Marra also is a faceoff specialist.
“Actually, he gets upset with me if I don't put him out there on key draw (faceoff) situations because he wants that responsibility and he feels good about his role,” Nelson said of O'Marra. “He gets satisfaction from that. If he doesn't win those draws, he gets upset with himself.
“Winning the draw is an art, and a lot of people don't realize that. You've got to be smart for one thing. You have to study your opponent. The smart faceoff men figure out what's going to beat the other guy.”
O'Marra and Tremblay also are paying offensive dividends. Three of Tremblay's four goals this season have been shorthanded, with O'Marra supplying the assist.
There was a breathtaking sequence in the Barons' last game when O'Marra stole the puck, protected it with a 360-degree spin move and dished a perfect lead pass to Tremblay, who scored on a clean breakaway. It all began with a little eye contact between O'Marra and Tremblay.
“That's the chemistry they have,” Nelson said. “They knew where each other is going to be. It's like a quarterback and a receiver. There's always a combination that's better than another combination. It's the same thing with them.”
What is O'Marra's reward for doing all this grunt work that earns him such little notoriety?
“To reward grunt work, you get more grunt work,” O'Marra said with a chuckle. “The rewarding part is looking back on last season, it didn't matter what my stats were. The Oilers knew what my role was and how I was developing down here. It doesn't matter if I score 20 or five goals, as long as I'm especially responsible doing the penalty kill, that's going to help my career.”
Barons at Grand Rapids Griffins
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
Records: Grand Rapids is 7-9-1-0 and in fourth in the Western Conference's North Division. Oklahoma City is 12-5-0-1 and tied for second in the West Division.
Scouting report: The Griffins are the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, while the Barons are affiliated with the Edmonton Oilers. … The Griffins and Barons split their two previous meetings this season in Oklahoma City, with the Barons winning 4-1 on Oct. 21 and the Griffins winning 3-2 in a shootout the following night. … Grand Rapids is coming off a 5-2 victory at home over Hamilton on Wednesday. … Barons forward Linus Omark is out at least six weeks with a broken left ankle and has returned home to Sweden, where he will begin rehabilitation.
Up next: Because of a scheduling conflict at Van Andel Arena, the Barons must travel to Rockford (7-9-1-0) for a 7:05 p.m. game Saturday and then return to Grand Rapids for a 4 p.m. contest Sunday. OKC's next home game is Friday against the San Antonio Rampage at 7 p.m. inside the Cox Convention Center. Tickets are available at the Cox Center box office.