Summer on the Oklahoma prairie is hot and dry, punctuated with hot winds, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and hail. It is not a region for the fainthearted. And for hockey fans it is almost unbearable, as we wait, anxiously for that first sign of hockey to return. Unfortunately, this summer was even worse than normal with all the escalating frustrations associated with the NHL lockout, but the moment we stepped into the arena this morning, all that changed.

As we walked through the arena doors on the ice level you could feel the excitement and the giddiness. As I chatted with friends from last season near the locker room and rink entrance, we were hit with just how unusual this training camp would be when Steve Tambellini walked in the door. Quiet greetings were exchanged, and at that moment the reality of the lockout and the reality of what we were facing here in OKC hit home.

OKC’s hockey season ended May 25th when the Barons were defeated by the Toronto Marlies in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Perhaps even more regretful than the defeat was the fact that our season ended on an away game. Individual members of the team have talked about last season’s “unfinished business” and fans too had their own unfinished business. They were unable to see the team off properly, with a cheer and applause as thanks for an incredibly remarkable season. So this morning, on a dreary misty cool Sunday morning, a large group of fans gathered to watch the team during their first public skate of the season. It felt like a homecoming, and it was just that.

A number of fans remarked that it felt just like Christmas morning – waiting impatiently for the day to arrive and then facing the joy and excitement of hearing the skates on the ice once again. Hearing the sounds of pucks hitting the boards, and most of all, seeing the OKC Barons in action once again.

OKC fans are well aware that this will be a very unusual season, at least for the time being. This morning we watched top NHL players from the Oilers skate on our ice – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz. And as equally important, at least to OKC fans, we also watched our returning players, along with a crop of new prospects who are young and very eager to begin their professional careers. As fans of a farm team, a minor league team, we are in an incredible position to watch future NHL stars develop and mature. We are also very lucky to be able to have access to our team, unlike NHL teams and their fans. OKC, enjoy this moment and this team for they are well on their way to bright careers and futures.

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For professional photographs from today’s training camp see Rob Ferguson’s OKCHockeyPhotos and Steven Christy’s OKC Barons Training Camp photos. Rob has a phenomenal set of photos of Bunz’s mask coming off after a puck hit!

For an up-to-date roster: OKC Barons Training Camp Roster.

Below is a gallery of my amateur photos. Click to enlarge.

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