Fifty-two seconds into the final period of a Barons win last December, fans threw hats onto the ice after Jordan Eberle scored his third goal of the night to record his first professional hat trick. Playing in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout, Eberle chipped in an assist that night and scored another goal, an empty-netter.
Eberle's four-goal game a week before Christmas was the highlight of his remarkable run in the American Hockey League.
The Edmonton Oilers' talented 23-year-old right winger was so dominant he still owned the league scoring lead six weeks later despite rejoining the Oilers in early January.
Eberle and the other young stars who played in Oklahoma City last year return to the Cox Convention Center on Friday night when the Edmonton Oilers face the Dallas Stars in both teams' NHL preseason finale.
“I'm excited,” Eberle said. “We were there four months. I met a lot of people we'll get to see. We also can show some of the Edmonton guys things we've talked about, where we lived, things we did. Those were some good memories.”
Scoring 51 points in 34 games, Eberle finished among the league leaders in goals (25) despite playing only 40 percent of the AHL season.
“Jordan is a very special player in the NHL who is highly skilled. He has a knack of scoring goals,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “People in Oklahoma City need to realize a player like that will never play here again. It was a unique season, an unbelievable player who played at this level.”
In a combined 82 games with the Barons and Oilers, Eberle compiled 88 points, including 41 goals.
What stood out those three months the young stars played in OKC was the Barons' power play was exceptional, a weapon Edmonton's young core transferred to the NHL.
“I'm still a young guy. Just getting a chance to continue to develop my all-around play gave me a lot of confidence,” Eberle said. “Taking three or four months off would have been the worst thing for us.”
The time in Oklahoma City turned out to be a fun four-month adventure, a nice change of pace. When Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz talked about mid-60s days in November and December, they smiled, knowing it was a stark contrast to snowy, chilly forecasts back in Edmonton. One perk to playing in OKC was golf season was extended.
Eberle is a scratch golfer. He and his buddies played numerous rounds, many at nearby Lincoln Park, before it finally got too cold a few weeks before the lockout ended.
But the primary benefit to playing in OKC was Eberle and company laced up their skates while frustrated NHL veterans listened to rhetoric from the players' union and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. At one point Eberle was convinced he might play all season with the Barons.
“Oklahoma City was the best option,” Eberle said. “It's good hockey. It was good we all got to play together. All of us got to work on our games. It was a great steppingstone to get to play together.”
Already possessing superior puck-handling skills, Eberle worked on finer points in the AHL, which promoted itself as the best hockey in North America during the lockout.
“I had played in the American League before so I knew what to expect,” Eberle said. “It's a tough league. There are a lot of guys that have played in the NHL. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but knew it would be easier coming in with Taylor and Nuge.”