The Sweater

I have an Oklahoma City Barons sweater.

That sweater is dark navy with copper, white, and red stripes on the sleeve. It has a tight v-neck design that is tailored perfectly for a head, two ears, two eyes, and a mess of hair to squeeze through. The back is stitched with breathable fabric that is perfect for early October heat and late May playoff pushes. The front features a nearly 24″ logo, the traditional Barons mark. The left shoulder has an OKC Barons oil drop, the right the iconic Edmonton Oilers logo. The sleeves are the perfect length, hitting me on the wrist as the radius and ulna meet, but not too far past where the carpals begin. It is comfortable, well worn, easy to clean, and perhaps my favorite article of clothing.

That sweater is torn near the forearm not because it was worn by a warrior grappling with another on the ice. No, that tear came as I was celebrating a Linus Omark game-winner, and the sleeve caught the edge of the armrest in section 202 years ago. There is a stain around the bottom edge where a pre-game Kool-Aid accident nearly ruined my day. The bright red faded to dark brown by the time the puck dropped. It smells like Dreft most of the time, but on some Fridays and Saturdays it becomes a saturated mess. It hugs my body perfectly, and it makes wearing a belt optional. It has been worn with blue jeans, casual dress slacks, shorts, and even a bathing suit one time. I once wore it for 24 hours straight.

That sweater reminds me of moments in time. It was worn the week my second child, a son, was born. I wore it when my father-in-law was being treated for prostate cancer. I wore it to Halloween parties to family get-togethers to places outside of the Oklahoma City limits. At least a half-dozen times I wore it to church. It became a part of my trips to the rink. It encouraged my daughter to get one of her own. I wore it when I was sad. I wore it when I was happy. I wore it when I was angry. I wore it when I was disappointed. I wore it – always – with pride.

That sweater reminds me of people. When I saw someone wearing one of their own I gave a quick “Hi!” or even a wave or nod like motorcyclists do on the highway. As if some unwritten code had been magically woven into the fabric, the person would always return the greeting with a version of their own. The sweater was there when the Cox Center flooded, and people were huddled (team included) in the bowels of the arena. It was there when Teemu Hartikainen injured his shoulder. It was there when the day game was nearly cancelled due to wintry weather. It was there when the Texas Stars beat them into submission. It was there when the Barons returned the favor. It was there when pucks-were-chucked, when kisses were made on cameras, when sumo wrestlers tackled, and humans were bowled. It was there when Shawn Belle was named the first recall in Barons history. It was there when Nelson coached his final game. It survived dollar beer nights (I’ve been told). It was worn by many, despised by some, honored by others, and reviled by few. They were seen in Peoria, San Antonio, Rochester, Houston, Utica, Edmonton, Calgary, and a host of other cities. It was worn by the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated. It was bought for boys, girls, men, women, dogs, cats, and other forms of life that needed more hockey in their lives. Whether it was seen on a season ticket holder, a flex plan buyer, a professional, a law man, a contractor, a pastor or a dancer it was always donned with gratitude, never regret.

That sweater reminds me of things it will never see. The Calder Cup Finals, and a crowd consistently large at the Cox Center.

That sweater reminds me of stories. Stories of people who first discovered hockey. About how they fell in love at a hockey game, and are getting married. How it gave them an escape from the “real world”. How it helped heal hurt, and soften the world that is so hard.

That sweater reminds me of hockey players. 155 players to be exact. From Camberon Abney to Teigan Zahn, Kiril Tulupov to Jordan Bendfeld – they all meant something. They were old, young, new, veteran, good, sketchy, fun, dangerous, easy to love, impossible to tolerate, strong, weak, sturdy, injury-riddled, but always cognizant of what that sweater truly meant. They earned the right to wear it, to play in it, to put apart of it through years of hard work.

That sweater tell me that there is more to come. The community that was built around that sweater is strong. It has withstood the test of time, and the disappearance of a hockey team before. It will remain strong through a common bond of hockey love. It might grow faint, but it will never go away. Truthfully it might grow in numbers, as crazy as that sounds.

That sweater will always exist.

That sweater will always be important.

That sweater will always mean something greater than just one person or player.

I love my Oklahoma City Barons sweater. Chances are, you do too.

7 comments on “The Sweater”

  1. Neal, I have four Houston Aeros IHL sweaters: Green – Fredeic Chabot, Blue – Greg Hawgood, White – Mike Yeo and Dave Tippett (yes, they both played for the Aeros). I also have an AHL third Jersey from Yeo’s year as our head coach. The four IHL sweaters have a prominent place in one of my bathroom closets (along with two Chicago Blackhawks, two Dallas Stars, and two Texas Wildcatters sweaters). The IHL sweaters are worn only on special occasions such as road trips to Austin or “Aeros Night” at an NA3HL “sort-of-like-hockey” game in Sugar Land.

    I’ll have those IHL sweaters the rest of my life, for the memories if nothing else.

    Best wishes for a swift return of pro hockey to both OKC and Houston.

  2. The jerseys are an amazing point (and I think I own 4?), but for me, I’ll always have time frozen in my photos. And what an unreal collection, as I think back on it.

    There’s a photo of the first set of season tickets. Of all 3 of Brad Moran’s goals (puck in net), for the first Barons hat trick. More amazing, of all SIX of Linus Omark’s goals in his 5 + 1 game in November of 2010. Of Taylor Fedun’s SECOND pro goal (would’ve had his first, but someone stood up in front of me)…. that was the photo that Brandon Davidson saw & said to Taylor, “Isn’t that a goal?”, which in turn somehow made them both fans of my images. 🙂 (and that is an amazing thing alone).

    Photos of Brandon’s comeback weekend from cancer – the 18 foot long sign I made him, him seeing it from the penalty box, and him on a breakaway playing forward that first game. What I could catch of the destruction from May 31, 2013, as water rushed down the stairs of my section of seats….I took what photos I could while wondering if I still had a house to go home to after the game was postponed.

    Jordan Eberle’s New Year’s Eve hat trick…. Taylor Hall’s first AHL goal. Teemu Hartikainen in the spotlight – the absolute amazement when his girlfriend asked me for a copy of that image, that feeling may never go away.

    This final season, I didn’t get as many photos as I probably would’ve liked. Thanks to promises not kept by a certain staff member, I became disenfranchised and decided to spend time where I was appreciated. I ended up missing most of the back half of the year, and didn’t get to any playoff games. For one of the photographers I admire the most, I wish I could’ve gotten some shots of Ben Betker… this photographer shot him in juniors, and I would’ve loved to send him some shots of him in his first pro sweater.

    Even with that disaster of a final season, I have some pretty damn good moments frozen forever. Those moments during the first 4 seasons made me a much better photographer. And for all of them, I am forever grateful.

  3. I’ll always remember driving from Victoria to Abbottsford (B.C.) in November 2012 to watch Barons play the Heat. Justin Schultz netted the 2-1 OT winner with a wrister from the point. The arena was packed with Oiler fans. I don’t know if they caught this on the broadcast or not but the OKC Barons stayed after the Heat left; YES on the ice; and slauted the crowd with their sticks, there were so many Oil fans present. We cheered and we cheered. Heat fans left complaining about Schultz and we cheered.


  4. I’ve got the same sweater in my closet, a birthday present from my wife. This season, when everything went on sale for dirt cheap, I got a matching one with his own name and number for my son. He’s 19 months old, too young to wear it anytime soon. I also have the Edmonton orange and blue OKC oil drop jersey with “Hall 22” on the back. Not sure when I’ll ever wear them again, but that navy sweater is gorgeous, IMO, and, now, a piece of OKC history.

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