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Finishing touches on Tulsa Oilers ice at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.)

Finishing touches on Tulsa Oilers ice at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.)

With the recent Central Hockey League’s absorption into the ECHL our local former CHL teams take a big step up in the Minor League hockey world this weekend and you can already feel it when you talk to their staff and players. There’s a new sense of excitement in the arenas and practice rinks this week. There is clear recognition that this step up in minor league hockey will be great for hockey in general, their hockey players and the hockey fans in this region.

In the past I have covered CHL hockey and spent time traveling to CHL arenas in the south central region — the Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder, Allen Americans, Ft. Worth Brahmas, and the Arizona Sundogs. I had plans to visit the Denver Cutthroats and Arizona Sundogs this coming season, therefore I was saddened to learn the news that the two teams had suspended operations, particularly the Sundogs since their set-up in Prescott Valley was excellent. It operated in a great little arena with a well-run organization.

This season my primary focus will be on two local teams — the Tulsa Oilers and the Wichita Thunder, and the plan is to travel again to Allen and also branch out to Missouri to watch a game or two there as well.

The challenge this season for these teams will be to gear themselves up for a full schedule of ECHL next season. Most of these former CHL teams will only face “ECHL” teams a few times this season, and by far the majority of their opponents will be their familiar former “CHL” foes and rivals.

Leading up to opening weekend for many of these former CHL teams, the rosters have been in continual flux, adding, dropping, signing and releasing players in their attempt to make the teams stronger than ever before. These former CHL teams have to be able to compete against the ECHL’s faster and younger teams which have NHL draft prospects on their rosters every night. For a full list of the seven former CHL teams and a bit of their history see my earlier article Get to Know your New ECHL Expansion Teams.

Of the former CHL teams, several already have NHL and/or AHL affiliations: Quad City Mallards, who were affiliated with the Minnesota Wild & Iowa Wild last season have confirmed their renewed affiliation with Minnesota for this season. Recently the Allen Americans and San Jose Sharks announced their affiliation as well. The Missouri Mavericks are affiliated with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. For more NHL affiliations see FYI: NHL Team Affiliations with AHL and ECHL Teams.

The Wichita Thunder, not yet affiliated with any NHL team, have two players on their roster who have been recently assigned by their NHL clubs: defenseman Dan Milan was assigned from the Syracuse Crunch (AHL) by the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL), and goaltender Tyler Bunz was assigned by the Edmonton Oilers (NHL), parent team of the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons.

Some players & coaches to watch this season:

Missouri Mavericks’ Sebastian Geoffrion, a speedy pest of a player who is very familiar with the penalty box, but he can deliver some great dirty goals in front of the net for a team. He’s fun to watch and you will quickly understand why he was voted the Most Annoying Player in the CHL last season.

Allen American’s Jack Combs and Chad Costello, the Dynamic Duo, so nicknamed for a reason! Allen Americans Head Coach and General Manager Steve Martinson said “they are one of the highest scoring combos in AA history. I’m expecting them to put on a scoring clinic while we have them together.”

Tulsa Oilers’ Mele brothers, Tom and Steve, along with Adam Pleskach should be very interesting to watch this season. Tom Mele comes from last season’s ECHL Kelly Cup Champions, the Alaska Aces, to join his brother and longtime friend Adam Pleskach in Tulsa. OKC Barons fans had a brief glimpse of this group in OKC’s training camp and preseason games, and witnessed the Mele brothers deliver OKC’s first goal in the Texas Stars preseason game. (I interviewed the three Tulsa players this week and will post that article very soon.)

Wichita Thunder’s coach Kevin McClelland has spent the last couple of weeks fine-tuning his roster, which is looking very big and skilled when I had a chance to see them practice on Wednesday.  Last week Wichita’s McClelland was in full double-time mode, “We start Monday and I’ve got to have my season-opening roster in by Wednesday. I’m going to have two days to look at all 30 guys.” There are a group of players on the Thunder roster very familiar to OKC Barons fans (Erick Lizon, Tyler Bunz, Theo Peckham and another soon to be announced) so stayed tuned for more updates on this group as the season progresses.

Opening Weekend for most of the former CHL teams [Rapid City already opened their season]:

Tonight’s October 24th ECHL games — with updated scores:

  • Missouri 1 – 5 Indy
  • Tulsa 9 – 6 Allen
  • Toledo 6 – 3 Brampton
  • Rapid City 3 – 0 Quad City

Saturday’s ECHL games – Oct. 25:

  • Missouri 2 – 6 Ft. Wayne
  • Rapid City 3 – 4 SO Quad City
  • Allen 5 – 3 Wichita

Sunday’s ECHL games – Oct. 26:

  • Toledo 4 – 2 Brampton
  • Wichita 5 – 6 OT Tulsa

 

 

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