OKC Barons Bench (Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.)

Part IV: Hockey in Oklahoma

Bill Scott, the General Manager of the Oklahoma City Barons, sat down with me last week to talk about his job as the G.M. of the OKC Barons, the team and its young prospects, and hockey in Oklahoma. This fourth part of four segments focuses on hockey in Oklahoma impressions, the future and what it is like to live in Oklahoma. Hockey has existed in Oklahoma since 1928 when the Tulsa Oilers were first organized, as I mentioned in my History of Hockey in Oklahoma series. And in 2010, Oklahomans saw a new level of hockey come to the state with the AHL’s OKC Barons arrival. Fast, high quality, exciting hockey. On any given night, an OKC Barons player could even be playing at the highest level in the NHL. Last season we saw Teemu Hartikainen, Colten Teubert, and Chris VandeVelde, among many others go up to the NHL, and we saw Philippe Cornet make his NHL debut. This past season was also another milestone for hockey in Oklahoma Matt Donovan, the first Oklahoma born, raised and trained hockey player was drafted into the NHL by the New York Islanders. 

Interview with OKC Barons G.M. Bill Scott – August 28, 2012

PT: What’s your impression of hockey in Oklahoma? The team aside, are you satisfied with the situation?  

Bill Scott: Yes, I think it is on the rise, for a couple of reasons. I think the youth program is growing. I think it is a good youth program and you’ve got good people working there, getting involved with it. Two of our coaches even have kids who are in the youth program, or have been a part of the youth program at this point. And I think you see more people taking an interest in it. One of the greatest things I think we do is taking the floor hockey set up around to YMCA’s and schools, and promoting the game of hockey. Just get a stick in a kid’s hand, in my opinion, and they’ll be hooked. And I think we see that time and time again. The kids just love playing floor hockey.

Oklahoma City has a rich hockey history that I think people here know, but usually people from afar don’t realize there is a great hockey history here. There is that foundation. Almost anyone you talk to, or you meet in the community, they’ve been to a hockey game before, so it’s not a market where hockey is completely unfamiliar. I think as our organization and our branding continues to get stronger and stronger, and we are out there more and more in the community, it’s helping hockey in Oklahoma City to grow, and it shows that it is a fun sport for kids to play.

I think hockey teaches a lot of great lessons to kids. They say hockey players are the most humble athletes in the world out of the big sports, and I find that on a daily basis because we have great guys in our locker room. Nobody’s above the team. I think you learn those teamwork skills, you learn to battle, to be strong, how to problem solve, to leave everything out on the ice when you play the game if you want to win. There’s that camaraderie.

I think it is also a great family game because it is not a high school sport in the US for the most part. It really involves getting your parents or guardian to take you to the rink, spend time there with you, and talk about it on the way home. I think with a high school sport you can be put up on a pedestal in your high school sometimes and I really find that hockey is humbling. There is always someone better than you, no matter where you are. If you are the best guy, you are probably not playing at a high enough level, so you move up to that level, and you can get knocked down a little bit as well. I think it teaches a lot of great lessons. And I think our community is getting more and more involved with it, with help from our organization as well. There’s always room for more growth; I think you can say that anywhere and I look forward to it continuing to grow. USA Hockey has seen a lot of growth in this region over the past few years and hopefully we can be a part of that and continue that trend.

PT: Yes, Texas hockey has grown tremendously since the Dallas Stars arrived, and Oklahoma hockey is growing.

[This following segment regarding the growth of hockey statistics was not part of our interview, however it provides hard statistics supporting our comments.]

Chris Peters, the former communications coordinator for USA Hockey, wrote last year about the growth of hockey in the southern states on his website The United States of Hockey.

Prior to the Dallas Stars move to Texas in 1993, there were 868 registered Texas hockey players in the 1990-91 season, and by May of 2011, there were nearly 10,909. There was a 1,156.8% increase during that time. [Link to Chris Peters’ article.]

There are also signs of very good growth in Oklahoma as well, even though there is no NHL team located in the state. Peters reports that in the 1990-91 season there were only 109 registered hockey players in Oklahoma. By 2009-10 there were 1,051, representing an 864.2% increase. [Link to Chris Peters’ article.]

Peters has this to say about the surprising Oklahoma stats:

Here’s another shocker for me. Oklahoma’s growing hockey landscape is really impressive and it undoubtedly will only continue to get better. Home of the CHL’s Tulsa Oilers, one of the longest-running Southwestern professional teams, and now the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, excitement is building. Couple those clubs with two quality ACHA Division I teams at both Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma and there’s no shortage of exposure for the game. This was another pleasant surprise for me, but I’d expect the surprises to keep on coming out of OK. Side note: Former Oklahoma QB and Heisman Trophy Winner Sam Bradford grew up playing hockey in Oklahoma City.

Josh Evans: Eventually the day is going to come, probably sooner rather than later, when a number one overall draft choice was trained exclusively in southern California, Dallas, Houston, or Phoenix.

Bill Scott: That’s what you are seeing. Those teams that joined the NHL fifteen to twenty years ago, and those kids who were 5 or 6 years old at that time and hadn’t picked a sport, they fell in love with hockey, watching it on TV, going to games and they picked it up. And it just goes to show you don’t have to be from Canada to be a good hockey player. If you pick the sport up at a young age and you get involved you can make it to the NHL. Matt Donovan is a great example of that. Obviously he is talked about a lot here. He came up through the organization here, went to college and now he’s with the Islanders in Bridgeport and he got his first taste of the NHL last year.

PT: You have now been in Oklahoma for 2 years – have you and your family been able to adjust to life in Oklahoma? It must be a huge difference from where you have lived before.

Bill Scott: We love it in Oklahoma. It’s really nice. It is certainly a big adjustment for us. I grew up in Toronto and my wife grew up in Massachusetts so we are used to being around much higher populated areas, so the traffic is really nice here because there is not a whole lot of it. It’s a great city. We love the weather obviously, minus the tornado season, that always put a little damper on things. But it’s really a friendly community. They have embraced the team very well in my opinion, so that always makes you feel good when you see some Barons stuff around. It’s one of those places, we’ve talked about it with our coaches too, when we are on the plane coming home from a week of travel, we are always happy to arrive home. And I think there are a lot of cities where you can go where you might go back begrudgingly and think “I’m just going to get through this season and then I can’t wait to go back home.” We have a house here, we bought a house here, a couple of people on our staff have done that and our guys really enjoy being here. The reputation across the American Hockey League is that this is a great place to play, and for players to come, so we are very thankful for that opportunity. We really like it a lot here and can’t say enough good things about it.

PT: Thank you very much for participating in this interview. I think fans will greatly enjoy hearing what you have to say.

Bill Scott: I appreciate it, and thanks for the opportunity.