The Tulsa Oilers gear up and sharpen their blades for another exciting season of family friendly entertainment.
Articulating the phrase “hockey in Oklahoma” sounds strange because it doesn’t fit who we are and what we know. In a state of Sooners and Cowboys where skating rinks are about as common as polar bears, hockey lingo isn’t exactly part of the everyday vernacular.
Despite the challenges – and there are many – the Tulsa Oilers have managed to carve out a niche in the local sports market and are just weeks away from dropping the puck on their 24th consecutive season. How exactly does tradition develop in a non-traditional hockey location? For the Oilers, the combination of longevity and multi-generational appeal has allowed hockey to survive and thrive where many other Southern-based franchises have failed and folded.
Most Tulsans would be surprised to learn that hockey in their city dates back to January 1, 1929, when the Tulsa Oilers played their first game against the Duluth Hornets at the Tulsa Coliseum. Although few fans remain from the very early days, the baby-boomers in Tulsa remember the Oilers as a staple entertainment option in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Known then as the “Ice Oilers,” the club won three Central Hockey League championships in an era of strong NHL affiliations and colorful characters. Those kids who fell in love with the game 40 or 50 years ago are now bringing their grandkids down to the BOK Center to watch the current incarnation of the Oilers. Hockey knowledge may not be running rampant in Tulsa, but there is no denying that love and devotion for local teams can be passed through a family like a cherished heirloom.
For the Oilers, catering to the die-hards is easy. Keep playing hockey year-after-year and the satisfaction level is almost guaranteed. But like any successful business, new customers are essential and the Oilers must be ready to educate, inform and entertain. The complaints and objections are common – “I can’t follow the puck” or “I don’t know the rules” – but the usual comeback from Oilers’ staffers is one of complete confidence in their product.
“We tell people who have never been to a hockey game to give us one chance,” remarks Oilers’ General Manager Taylor Hall. “Bring your family, friends, or co-workers to one game and regardless of how much you know about hockey, you’re going to have a great time. We don’t just have hockey games, we have entertainment events. No matter your age or interest level in sports, we truly believe you are going to be blown away by the level of skill and speed on the ice, and the energy and atmosphere in the building.”
With attendance on the rise over the last several seasons and a brand new affiliation with the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL, the 2015-16 campaign is set to begin with more promise and higher expectations than ever before. The Oilers, who will be under the direction of new Head Coach Jason Christie, are one of the most stable clubs in the 28-team ECHL and continue to offer one of Tulsa’s most affordable, family-friendly entertainment options. As the city improves and innovates so does its hockey team. However, one thing remains constant. There is no need to understand icing or the significance of the blue line to be part of Tulsa’s longest-running sports tradition. Hockey in Oklahoma is meant to be passed on.