AHL, Allen Americans, Doug Sauter, ECHL, ECHL Central Division, edmonton oilers, Gerry Fleming, nhl, OKC Blazers, OKC Stars, OKC Warriors, Oklahoma City Barons, Pepper Martin, Rocky Thompson, Todd Nelson, Tulsa Oilers, Turner Turnpike Rivalry, Wichita Thunder
At the end of the 2014-15 season the Oklahoma City Barons will cease to exist. Prodigal LLC, the local owner-management company and owner of the Barons trademark and logos, has parted ways with the Edmonton Oilers organization at the end of this season, and the Edmonton Oilers, who own the AHL affiliate, will relocate the team elsewhere (most likely Bakersfield) and the team will be renamed. We knew this day would ultimately arrive since there has been talk of the Western Conference NHL teams moving their AHL teams to the Pacific coast since late 2011, and the Oilers were always part of that dialogue. (See more articles on the OKC Barons situation at Tend the Farm from Neal Livingston.)
What does this mean for hockey in OKC? Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman wrote that Bob Funk Jr., Prodigal’s CEO, “made it clear if he sees a shift in the hockey market he’ll only pursue another AHL team because he feels Oklahoma City deserves Triple-A hockey.” Let’s be very honest about the situation here in OKC — Blazer fans in OKC were not happy with the way the CHL Blazers team was closed down by the Funks in July 2009, and today OKC Barons fans are not happy with the current situation. It is difficult to envision many current fans buying into any Prodigal-Funk managed team in the future. Too many bridges have been burned to even return to such a scenario.
The best case scenario for OKC hockey in the possible future now seems to be an ECHL team if the league were to expand, or even move a current or hiatus team affiliation such as the Las Vegas Wranglers into this location. The ECHL has shown great interest in OKC given the close geographical and historical relationships with the ECHL’s new Central Division consisting of some rather infamous former rivals from OKC’s Blazer hockey years — the Tulsa Oilers and the Wichita Thunder along with a much more recent member, the Allen Americans. Revive the old Turnpike rivalry between the Tulsa Oilers and a new OKC team — it would create a far better fanbase for both teams! It certainly did in the past.
Under a new management company (or ownership) similar to the highly creative and inventive Bakersfield Condors group, an ECHL team could survive in OKC given the right situation. It would take hard work to get the word out that hockey has returned and the team would need to wholeheartedly embrace the various histories of hockey in OKC to welcome back the various factions of fans. But whatever you do, do not consider naming the team the Blazers.* That’s in the past and a new team needs to develop their own personality and not alienate any OKC hockey fans from past local teams. Don’t overload a new young development team with the memories of that award-winning wild and woolly Central Hockey League Blazers team under CHL Hockey Hall of Fame Coach Doug Sauter. Let that CHL team hold onto their glories, and a new team should welcome future adventures of their own. Hang the old CHL Blazers Championship banners proudly in the arena and revel in their victories, and forever cherish the memories of the AHL OKC Barons accomplishments, Coach Todd Nelson, Rocky Thompson, Gerry Fleming, and the great many players who we have been honored to watch while playing in OKC.
Never forget that Oklahoma City has a rich hockey history, one that is worthy of celebration and honor — in addition to the AHL’s OKC Barons (2010-15), OKC has over the years cheered for the CHL’s OKC Blazers (1965-72; 1973-77; 1992-2009), the OKC Stars (1978-82), and the AHA’s OKC Warriors (1933-36) [see Photo below]. Let fans discover more about Oklahoma’s hockey history through special promotion nights and historical jersey nights, while watching and investing in a new era of OKC hockey. That more than anything will open the doors and welcome all OKC hockey fans back into the arena.
Since October I have followed the new ECHL expansion teams, primarily the Wichita Thunder and the Tulsa Oilers, and fans who have enjoyed AHL hockey in OKC will very much still enjoy ECHL hockey. This is not your old Central Hockey League style of rock ’em sock ’em hockey, but instead it is a very excellent mix of skill and yes, some great hits and even fights tossed into the game. You might even see some familiar faces in the league, but you will also be delighted with the new higher level of skill.
We would welcome a new era of ECHL hockey into OKC, but let’s give it a fighting chance to survive under new management, allowing various fanbases to unite, and let nearby rivalries from the past help grow hockey in this region in order to reach a new level. Is it feasible? Yes, I believe it is, if a new team is introduced as a continuation of Oklahoma’s rich hockey heritage.
*Note: The former OKC Blazers trademark and logos are currently owned, therefore the issue of using that name could well be far too difficult.