Robert Newton - Rugby Player (Photo from Robert Newton; All Rights Reserved.)

Fairly early in the season I met an OKC rugby player who sits next to my group in Section 323. We frequently talked about hockey, rugby and whiskey, until one day he appeared in his Blackhawks jersey.  (This season I have started to ask myself how have I acquired so many Blackhawks friends in OKC?) Despite the fact that Robert Newton is a Blackhawks fan – I try to ignore those pesky details  he is a very enthusiastic OKC Barons fan! You might have seen him and even cheered him on at the Special Olympics Jersey auction in February as he battled to buy Dylan Yeo’s jersey. He won it! And you might have heard Robert cheering for Yeo during the home games – “YEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Yes, that’s likely Robert, … or Rusty, … or Jeremy.

Meet Robert Newton – OKC Barons Fan!

PT: How long have you been a hockey fan?

Robert:  I grew up loving all sports, but I’d say the tipping point, to when I really became a fan was April 23, 1996.  I’d been a casual fan before that, but the epic playoff game that was decided in the 3rd period between the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks.  This was towards the end of the Blackhawks early-mid 90s should have been dynasty with Chelios, Roenick, Suter, Amonte, Probert, etc.  My family has always been huge basketball fans and growing up with the Bulls in the 90s was fantastic, but it was that particular playoff game, 16 years ago, that really made me a fan.

PT: Who is your favorite NHL team and why?

Robert:  Chicago sports are in my blood.  Bulls, Bears, Cubs, and Blackhawks are my teams.  I actually grew up closer to St. Louis, in the heavily STL/CHI polarizing Springfield, IL area.  As my father says, “My wife is a liberal Protestant and I’m a conservative Catholic, but they we’re both Cubs fans so it works.”

PT: Who is your favorite NHL player(s) and why?

Robert:  Right now, I have to say that I love watching Jonathan Toews.  Him missing so much of the season with concussion symptoms has been a real disappointed, quenched by his quick playoff goal his first game back in that unfortunate loss to the Coyotes.  Historically, I’ve always loved Chris Chelios.  His defection to the Red Wings stung, but we took Probert years earlier so I’ve been on both fan sides of the exchange of fan beloved ageless wonders.

PT: Do you have any hockey souvenirs? What are they?

Robert:  I have a few, but not many.  A framed and autographed New York Rangers Gretzky jersey that I won in a trivia contest is probably my oldest NHL possession.  I have a couple of old Blackhawks shirts, a sweet Toews jersey, and from the Barons, a few t-shirts, a plethora of give-aways like the “Snuggie-style blanket” and the Special Olympics jersey from Dylan Yeo.  I also have the carts for Ice Hockey and Blades of Glory for the NES.  Classic.

PT: What is your favorite hockey souvenir(s)? (Jersey, puck, etc.)

Robert:  The newest, the Yeo jersey, is definitely my favorite with the oldest, the Ice Hockey NES game as my second favorite.

Dylan Yeo (center) and Robert Newton (right) at Special Olympics Jersey Auction (Photo: Courtesy Steven Christy Photography. All Rights Reserved.)

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?

Robert:  I am not from OKC, having moved here in 2007 and I’ve only seen one Blazers game and I enjoyed the experience, but not the game itself.  The quality of play in the AHL is fantastic and the little things done wrong in lower leagues can really drag a game out with numerous icing, off-sides, and other minor penalties.

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?

Robert:  I think that first experience of hockey in Oklahoma with the Blazers soured me a little so I only started going to games about halfway through the first season and was hooked immediately.

PT: How many games do you attend and/or watch on average? All? Most?  Explain.

Robert:  I’m going to say most.  I travel a lot with rugby and work and try to attend all the games that I can.

PT: What is your opinion of the team and coaching this season, so far? 

Robert:  This team has been fantastic, I don’t think you could ask for better out of a two year old team.

PT: Who are your favorite players and why?

Robert:  I have two, for completely opposite reasons. Magnus Paajarvi is one, because of how exciting he is every time he touches the puck.  His speed is amazing and he’s not afraid of getting hit out there.  Kirill Tulupov, while also exciting to watch, it’s for completely opposite reasons.  He’s a fearless brute on the ice, striking fear into every opponent in his path.

PT: Which player were you most excited to see play this season?

Robert:  It’s hard to choose just one.  Alex Plante was definitely my favorite player from last season but with being optioned and concussion symptoms, it has been a tougher season for the AHL All-star.

PT: Who is your favorite new player this season (2011-2012)?

Robert:  There are so many, it’s hard to choose, but I’m going with the popular choice, the 2011-2012 fan favorite, Kirill Tulupov.

PT: Who is your fan favorite this season and why?

Robert:  Once again, Tulupov’s play and the fun of having seats next to the Tulupov Army has definitely been a blast this season.

PT: What would you change about the team itself, if anything?

Robert:  I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s been a fantastic season full of young future stars who will only get better until they end up with the Oilers full time.

PT: Who deserves a chance at breaking into the Oilers roster next season?

Robert:  I think there are some things that can’t be taught/improved upon much – two of those things are fearlessness/toughness and speed for the reasons I stated above, I think Tulupov and Paajarvi will be up there.

PT: Describe your best team/player/coach experience this season:

Robert:  I haven’t really had any direct interaction with any of the team.  Due to random work/rugby obligations, I haven’t been able to make any of the parties set up for socializing.

PT: Do you have any additional comments regarding the team and players?

Robert:  I have a lot of respect for mascots, but Derrick mingling with fans during play, especially down by the boards, is extremely unprofessional and obnoxious.  That has got to stop.

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?

Robert:  Incomplete.  Cole Butcher has been my ticket rep and he has done a fantastic job and always says, waves, or nods hello to me while walking through the concourse.  That’s friendly service.  As for media exposure, 96.1 has been really great for listening to the games.  Unfortunately, as I said, I haven’t been able to attend any of the parties such as the draft party or fan appreciation due to evening obligations, so I can’t really grade that.

PT: What has been your best off-ice experience this season and why?

Robert:  It’s been the word getting out about the Barons.  Someone hears I have Barons season tickets and they actually perk up.  The word about the team has definitely been getting out with all the TV advertising and billboards.  I just wish it translated to more butts in the seats.

PT: What has been your worst off-ice experience this season and why?

Robert:  Carefully measured pours of liquor.  Let the bartenders be bartenders and give them the option of measuring for the non-regulars or crappy tippers.

PT: What would you like to change about the off-ice experience for next season?

Robert:  I think some more fan mixers would be great, especially for away games.  Perhaps due to licensing reasons, Prodigal can’t do this, but if away game watch parties, especially over big rivals, could be set up, that would be fantastic.

PT: As a fan, what is your opinion of the social media aspect (Twitter, Facebook, Website)? Pass or Fail and Why?

Robert:  I think the Twitter feed was weak in the beginning of the season, but has gotten a lot better.  The website is a great design and is managed really well.  Those two definitely get passes.  I don’t visit the Facebook page, so I can’t judge.

Robert with split lip during rugby game (Photo source: Robert D. Newton. All Rights Reserved.)