When I moved to Oklahoma I was very disappointed that I would have to give up NHL hockey. Yes, I would see the occasional game on television and watch most of the games on NHL.com, however, it is not the same as living in an NHL city where the nightly local news talks about hockey with enthusiasm, the good and the bad. Much to my surprise, I learned that hockey does exist in the state of Oklahoma! After voicing my dismay over the lack of NHL hockey in the state, someone mentioned the Tulsa Oilers and the newly formed Oklahoma City Barons. What?? The Oklahoma City Barons are the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate to the Edmonton Oilers, and the Tulsa Oilers are in the Central Hockey League (CHL) and until this summer they were the CHL affiliate to the Colorado Avalanche.
Oklahoma – the Oklahoma that I grew up in – has always been known for football. The Oklahoma Sooners. The Oklahoma State Cowboys. Serious tailgating football. But, oddly enough, there is also hockey intermingled with that overwhelming football fandom. Granted, we are not talking NHL hockey here, but it is close! Were you aware that hockey has a long history in this state? The original Tulsa Oilers was founded in 1928 – that is close to 83 years of hockey. Astonishing. My mother remembers attending one of the Tulsa Oilers games back in the 1940s as a young girl. The arena was crammed full and the Tulsa fans loved every minute of it! In a series of future posts I will explore the history of hockey in Oklahoma and publish a number of interviews with hockey players active in the state of Oklahoma. The series will be a fun look at hockey in this football state for readers not only living in Oklahoma but outside the state as well.
Sadly, by the time I discovered hockey was active in Oklahoma the local hockey season was almost over. I attended the end of the Barons regular season and their playoff games. For a first year team, it was a pleasant surprise to me that the team made it to the Calder Cup playoffs. I did not even know the players’ names that first game, but I found myself cheering loudly along with the crowd. I had NEVER watched AHL hockey before in my life! I had preconceived notions about it and I am happy to say that I was wrong. AHL hockey – the Oklahoma City Barons team – has been great fun to watch and follow. No, the fan base is not the same as NHL teams and the arena theatricality leaves something to be desired, but the hockey is still great fun. It is difficult for an AHL team to live up to NHL level — the games, the opponents, fan numbers, and the huge arena thrill, but this has not diminished the excitement of the sport of hockey itself.
Being a Capitals fan in D.C., and now a Vancouver Canucks fan from afar, has spoiled me – their media coverage, their fans, their arenas, and in particular, the recognition of their female fan-base. AHL and OKC Barons – are you listening? There is a huge female fan base out there just waiting to spend money on hockey! Encourage that! Market it! Don’t miss this growing fan base just because you think women don’t care about sports and hockey. I’ll let you in on a secret. I spent more on NHL playoff tickets, travel and associated items this past season than an entire season’s best AHL tickets. I also attended every AHL game I could make last season. And I’m not alone here.
I plan on attending every OKC Barons game possible this coming season, with the exception of those times I will be attending NHL games. There are benefits to AHL hockey that one does not see at the NHL level. First, tickets are affordable. Yes, fans complain no matter the cost, but take a good look at NHL prices and then price tickets for Oklahoma Sooner or Oklahoma Cowboy football games. OKC Barons hockey prices are a good deal! Another benefit is the fan and player interaction that is more common on the AHL level as compared to the NHL level. Yes, AHL fans know that their players want above all else to make the NHL team roster – and we know the best players will most likely be called up to the Edmonton Oilers at some point during the season. We acknowledge that some players are not happy about playing in the AHL when all of their dreams and hopes are focused on the NHL, but guys, just take a deep breath and enjoy your time here. Enjoy the fans. If you do that, you will have fans for life no matter where your career leads you.
As for the Tulsa Oilers, oh yes, I will certainly attend games there as well this season. My series on Hockey in Oklahoma will begin with the Tulsa Oilers since it was Tulsa’s crazy mad Oil Boom era which prompted the first organized hockey in this state.
For Collegiate Hockey in the state of Oklahoma, see Puckchk’s new article The Season Starts for Oklahoma U. Hockey at the blog A World Unto.