Neal Livingston – where do I begin? I met Neal initially on Twitter and we finally met face-to-face during this season’s training camp. If you do not follow Neal on Twitter (@tweetneal) and read his extremely articulate, witty and brilliant articles on his blog Neal Livingston \ I’ll thought, you listen and on The Copper & Blue you are missing the best OKC Barons writing in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere for that matter. Without going into a long stream of superlatives – among which would appear the words integrity, ethics, kindness, honesty and keen perception – I will just say that I have a great deal of admiration for Neal. He is a pastor in OKC, and a serious hockey fan. He is continually thinking outside the box, lobbing thoughts and ideas out there, generating thought provoking commentary, discussions and feedback. He is one of this team’s most serious fans – yet he is also extremely cognizant of its realities. So, without further ado …
Meet Neal Livingston – OKC Barons Fan!!
PT: Where do you live?
Neal: Deep in the heart of Oklahoma City.
PT: How long have you been a hockey fan?
Neal: I’ve been a hockey fan for as long as I can remember, but I really fell in love with hockey when I was 8 years old watching Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers have a game suspended because of a power failure in the building. Strange that all this time later I’m watching Oilers hockey again.
PT: Who is your favorite NHL team and why?
Neal: Without a question, the Dallas Stars. Favorite team by association or rather distance. That ’99 Cup run was a highlight in my sports watching.
PT: Who is your favorite NHL player(s) and why?
Neal: This is a fantastic question and one that I’ll cop out on because it’s hard to nail down one. I like big strong defensemen because they work hard, are invaluable to their teams, and don’t hit the highlight reels the next day. So right now, it’s Shea Weber. Offensively I like the creativity and youthful exuberance of guys like Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, and Jamie Benn. Sometimes you can’t blink while watching them – you might miss something great. How’s that for an answer on top of many answers?
PT: If you are from OKC, were you a Blazers fan? And if so, how do you compare the Blazers with the AHL OKC Barons team?
Neal: Wow, I was a huge Blazers fan because it met a hockey need that I couldn’t get weekly anywhere close to the city. Simply put, the speed of the game is about 10x what it ever was with the Blazers. I remember sitting on the glass for one of the first AHL games last season and thinking, “I really have to pay attention, this is moving fast!” Off the ice, there is a more grown up feel with community projects. That’s probably because more people nationally are watching the team interact with the community. An Oklahoma City hockey team will always reach out to the city, but they’ve really done a bang up job the last two seasons of increasing their interaction.
The OKC Barons Team (Players and Coaching staff):
PT: The OKC Barons are now two years old – did you have an opportunity to follow the team since the beginning?
Neal: Indeed I did. Used the troughs in the men’s room on opening night. I consider that “since the beginning”.
PT: How many games do you attend and/or watch on average? All? Most? Explain.
Neal: As a full-time pastor in Oklahoma City, my schedule doesn’t allow for me to get to the rink for every game, but I indeed take in quite a few during the season. If I’m not able to be there in person I watch every game online.
PT: What is your opinion of the team and coaching this season, so far?
Neal: I love this team. Young and old — they all function as a unit. They enjoy each other off the ice. Very little individual swagger, and more group betterment. We saw shades of that last season, but not like we have in the current one. We also are beginning to see more prospects from day one which adds to the excitement of cheering future NHLers. The coaching staff is quite impressive. They don’t panic or make mistakes that cost their teams games before the puck drops. That’s huge, especially at the development level. Every one of these coaches has a huge future both at this level and the next.
PT: Who are your favorite players and why?
Neal: Hands down, my favorite player is Teemu Hartikainen. He demands your attention because he’s such a great story. From his military tour to his late drafting to his emergence as an important player in the organization – he’s fun to watch. And he’s just so young, his future is bright and I think sometimes even he doesn’t realize it.
PT: Which player were you most excited to see play this season?
Neal: I’ll be the first to say that I just don’t understand goaltenders. Who wants that job? 🙂 They are quirky, silly, and they generally make me nervous. But in the end, they play the most important role on the ice. So I was anxious to see Yann Danis play and compare him to another Barons veteran goaltender, Martin Gerber. Danis surprised me. I wasn’t sold on him being a legit starter, but boy was I wrong. The best goal-tending season on an Oilers farm club in quite some time, and it just might earn him another tour in OKC (and beyond).
PT: Who is your favorite new player this season (2011-2012)?
Neal: Tyler Pitlick came to OKC with some weight on his shoulders, and it proved tough to overcome through the first half of the season. But watching him mutate into a player that we thought he might be has been quite fantastic. He still has a hill to climb, but he’s on the up. No doubt that he is my favorite new player of the season.
PT: Who is your fan favorite this season and why?
Neal: Ah, the fan favorite. Kirill Tulupov comes to mind first because he’s hard to NOT cheer for. From his preseason workout video that caught the Oilers attention to his ability to really connect with fans, Kirill is why hockey in small markets is so great. There’s a sense of connection that is experienced unlike anywhere else, and Tulupov embraced every single moment of it. I’ll always think fondly of him for that reason.
PT: What would you change about the team itself, if anything?
Neal: I’m nitpicking, but I’d like to see a dedicated, strong, consistent forecheck. This team is fast enough to do it, and they would give teams fits in that regard. The Nelson system is defensively strong, and maybe overly patient, but an aggressive forecheck would make for some high chancing hockey.
I think the Barons will need to look for more veteran scoring in the offseason to offset the continued youth on the team. Who? Not sure right now, but the list is pretty long.
PT: Who deserves a chance at breaking into the Oilers roster next season?
Neal: Teemu Hartikainen is the likely choice, but I think we’ll be surprised by next season. If the Oilers choose to bury the Khabibulin contract, Danis might be a solid backup for Dubnyk. Tyler Pitlick also seems poised to pull a “Cornet” and have a huge sophomore season, one that might warrant a few callups.
PT: Describe your best team/player/coach experience this season:
Neal: My favorite Barons moments typically take place off the ice and in groups. The Christmas break skate underneath the Devon Tower was quite memorable. I spoke with each and every player that day, and all interacted graciously with my family. In moments like that, these players we cheer for become more human and accessible. That’s always a blast.
PT: Do you have any additional comments regarding the team and players?
Neal: I Heart This Team! Can we keep them the same age, with the same skill sets, and the same mentality for the next 20 years? Thanks.
Off-ice Fan Experiences – this includes inside the arena, outside events and social media:
PT: How is the off-ice experience for you as a fan this season? Pass or Fail and Why?
Neal: I’m not one to ask about off-ice experiences because I’m a tad naive and miss a lot of things. Inside the arena it’s the same thing we’ve seen, nothing spectacular, but nothing cringe worthy (oh wait, Shane). There seems to be a timidity to make a drastic change while fans are still learning about the team. On the flip side, I say be creative. Take risks within the arena and out that cause people to react.
PT: What has been your best off-ice experience this season and why?
Neal: I love being able to skate with the team. Sundays, off times, whenever. I feel like I’m standing in their office on their turf, and they have welcomed me in.
PT: What has been your worst off-ice experience this season and why?
Neal: Shane. And Shane might say the same thing about me, but he has to go. People are smart. They can smell when things aren’t authentic. Even if you hate Ben’s hysteria you know that he sincerely enjoys the game and the city. I don’t get that vibe from Shane. He’s probably a genuine guy, but the attempt to seemingly replace Ben is a tad cringe worthy. SEE ALSO: If you’re going to announce things from the ice (as Ben & Shane do) let’s try to memorize our lines – NO MORE READING!
PT: What would you like to change about the off-ice experience for next season?
Neal: Take a chance. Wow people. Lights, music, sound, food, etc. Shake it up!
PT: As a fan, what is your opinion of the social media aspect (Twitter, Facebook, Website)? Pass or Fail and Why?
Neal: Love it all. I’m slightly addicted to social media so this is a SUPER PASS for me!
PT: Do you have any additional comments on this subject?
Neal: I am grateful for the community that is Oklahoma City hockey. It’s a fun family that is as diverse as it is passionate about the sport. The fraternity that is hockey in OKC is growing. It’s not all inclusive, but organic. I’ve met people that I’d never have met had we not had a mutual love for frozen sports in the least likely of cities. Regardless of its future – AHL, NHL, ECHL, USHL, CHL – the gathering of fans in Oklahoma City and the bond that ties us all together is absolutely priceless.