Northern Italy is an incredible place. Caught between heaven on earth and George Clooney’s playground, it is one of the most beautiful destinations on this glowing sphere with cultural subtleties that rival virtually any other area of Europe including it’s Southern counter-parts. On the quaint, calm, and incredibly Swiss portion of Lake Lugano lies a hotel that I once had the privilege of residing in for nearly a week. Mid-90’s, with my father touring the globe on a consulting endeavor, I had the privilege of making this neck of the woods my own personal “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel. It was a glorious week, and the moments of sheer pleasure still bathe my dreams.
Memories of architecture. Homes jetting upward, old-fashioned in a gray scale hue, seemingly emerged from the earth over timeless Swiss-Italian decades. Inside they were the complete opposite. Curtains in windows over 20′ tall, wooden tables with matching chairs that likely exist only in this particular home, in this particular area of the world. The churches were drastic, cold, and ominous. The local eateries colorful, friendly, and familiar.
However, as it is in most cultures it’s the people that make or break you experience, and the crepe-filled smiles of the Italian-Swiss-Italians were incredibly endearing.
One cool night, mid-summer, I wandered through a weekend street party that was apparently a local tradition. The smells were intoxicating, the music atmospheric, and my grin widened by the whole mess of things. I was quickly welcomed under a tent where park benches had been turned in to make-shift conversing cubicles. The young quipped with the old. The men chatted with the ladies. The kids playing at a distance. My affection for Europe, and this part of the world, was quickly heightened. Loving someone you’ve never met, falling for their ways, and embracing them full force had been a rare occurrence in my young life. Boy was it pure elation.
Fast forward to 2014, and I’m reminded of communal happiness, but in an entirely different mode. Hockey.
Announced last week, the Oklahoma City Thunder are planning to upgrade the Chesapeake Center for the upcoming NBA season. The millions of dollars being poured into that building are rightly justified, and good for business. The building is over ten years old, and is starting to show its age. This also means that it is being used heavily, and that is a great testimony to the strength of the downtown OKC area. Good news.
Included in the revamp is one particularly saddening piece of nostalgia. The former hockey locker rooms will be molded into an office of sorts for travelling users of the building.
Plans call for more than doubling the space set aside for players’ families to about 2,600 square feet. Used during games, the room includes televisions and a play area for children. The project includes converting a former minor league hockey locker room into office space for tour managers, promoters and others who come through the arena with events such as concerts and need a place to work. The cost estimate was $600,000; the four lowest bids ranged from $822,000 to $870,000. The city council awarded the contract Tuesday to W.L. McNatt & Co.
Long gone are the Oklahoma City Blazers, but so to is the thought of any type of hockey being played in the Peake in the future. Which is fine. After all, WE STILL HAVE THE MIGHTY MYRIAD!
I’m getting misty just reminiscing about the bloody faces that passed through that room. The coaches who screamed profanity a plenty. The mustaches that were groomed. The pucks handed out for exceptional performances. Long gone are the players, and the glass-breaking memories, but I’m sure the stench of minor minor league sweat remains. I mean, really, did you think it would ever go away? What hasn’t left is the community of minor league hockey fans. Believe me, they don’t show up to games, but they exist. And they may not be stick, puck, pad fans in general, but they were once completely faithful.
In the mid to late 90’s and beyond the Oklahoma City Blazers owned the Myriad and then the eventual Ford Center. Although their final years of existence were tumultuous behind the scenes, and bumpy on the ice, the community of hockey appeared to be alive and well. There was no fuss. Not competition with NBA basketball. Just a minor league city hosting minor league hockey with a sense of pride. The irony here lies in the buildings initial purpose, and that was to hopefully steal the gaze of the NHL, and thus bring a team to Oklahoma City. Instead, fast forward many years later, and even the locker rooms will become a distant memory.
I bring you this humble mumble today because we are embarking on a new adventure of hockey in Oklahoma City. Not since, well, season one of Barons play have we embarked on such a highly entertaining group of prospects (supposedly), and so I kind of get antsy a bit when considering the state of hockey (not to be confused with THE state of hockey). I want the successes of the past to bolster the future. I want the community to grow, and feel genuine once again. So forgive me when I complain just a little about the inattention given to the Barons these days. There, that’s all you get, one sentence of complaining. I’m done. Go back to your NBA League Pass and ESPN Goal Line (I will too).
As the waves of hockey continue to pound the shoreline of Oklahoma remember that it is of utmost importance to remember the past. It ’twas a sweet sensation. Let’s do it again, shall we?