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Condors set to close home slate with division title still in play

Condors home finale

Cooper Marody (middle) is swarmed by teammates after scoring his league-leading 21st goal against Colorado earlier this month. Marody and the Condors host San Diego in the opener of a three-game AHL playoff series Friday at 6 p.m.

What was once the most seemingly normal circumstance has begun feeling strange to Cooper Marody.

After months of playing in an empty home arena, Marody, a Bakersfield right wing who entered Thursday with an American Hockey League-best 21 goals, and his teammates have gotten to play in front of a 10-percent capacity crowd at Mechanics Bank Arena. This has seemingly provided a boost to the Condors, who are 3-1 in such games.

And while stating that it's "awesome to have the fans back," Marody says playing in front of roughly 1,000 spectators hasn't exactly made things feel similar to how they did in a pre-COVID world, as the pop of a big moment isn't hitting in the same way it would have in years prior.

"It's kind of funny, (but) it's weird to have fans," Marody said. "Who would have thought ... a few years ago it would be weird if there's fans in the building? It's a little like white noise during the game."

But even if the environment hasn't been as raucous as in years past, Mechanics Bank Arena hasn't exactly been a fun place for opposing teams at any point in 2021.

After a difficult start, Bakersfield has proven to be almost unbeatable on home ice of late, winning 16 of its last 18 games. To get the chance to share their success with a home crowd, even a small one, in recent weeks has been rewarding for those in the organization.

“We want the Bank to be (a) difficult, difficult night for our opponents," Condors coach Jay Woodcroft said. "At the end of the day, why we play the game, why we’re here is not only to develop hockey players but to make this community proud of us. There’s no better way to make this community proud than by giving our top effort on home ice.

"I’ve been really pleased with how we’ve competed all year … under unique circumstances. But to have a few fans in this building and to hear the excitement when we score a goal or make a big hit or come up with a big defensive play, I think it propels our team forward. That’s what drives us. We want to make the community of Bakersfield proud of this hockey team. I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

The Condors will wrap the home portion of their scheduled in the next two days. They host Colorado, a team they defeated 2-1 Wednesday night, on Friday, then take on San Diego Saturday. Both games begin at 6 p.m.

The San Diego game will be followed by road contests against Henderson on May 13, 15 and 16, games that will determine the top seed in an upcoming tournament of the Pacific Division. 

With winning percentage set to determine the top seed, Bakersfield and its percentage of .643 entered Thursday sandwiched between Henderson (.647) and San Diego (.603) in the standings.

Though a format for the division tournament has yet to be announced, getting the top seed remains a high priority for the Condors.

"All of us want it, for sure," Marody said. "I think we have a phenomenal group. We're just trying to keep it rolling."