OKC Jr. Blazers announce preseason Canadian road trip

Days after finding out their regular season schedule, the Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers announced their preseason schedule that will see them embark on a road trip to Canada. The trip for the Blazers will see them play seven games against six different teams from three different junior leagues.

Up first, the Blazers head to Weyburn, Saskatchewan to take on the Weyburn Red Wings on September 7th. The Red Wings are part of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a Junior A league one step below the three major junior leagues in Canada. Weyburn is also the longest-running team in the SJHL, having been a part of the league since 1968. The Blazers then head to Kindersley, Saskatchewan to take on the Kindersley Klippers, also of the SJHL, on September 9th.

The Blazers will take on their first team from the North American Hockey League, when they take on the Minot Minotauros in a neutral site game in Estevan, Saskatchewan on September 11th. The NAHL is the Tier II junior league under the USA Hockey banner, while the WSHL is a Tier II junior League under the United Hockey Union, marking the first meeting of teams when both are considered Tier II.

A homecoming occurs when the Blazers take on the Estevan Bruins on September 12th and 13th, as head coach Tyler Fleck and assistant coach Marco Cefalo return to coach against the team they grew up playing junior hockey for. Fleck was quoted as saying, “Estevan is home for me. I played my entire Junior career with the Bruins and it was a very special time of my life. I guess it will be a bit of a homecoming for myself and for Marco (Cefalo). We are looking forward to being back there and on the bench.” Fleck and Cefalo were both members of the Bruins when they last won a championship in 1998-99.

The Blazers finish up the road trip on September 15th as they head to Virden, Manitoba to take on the Virden Oil Capitals of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The team returns home on the 17th and look towards their second season in the WSHL.

Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers release 2015-16 schedule

Despite not reaching the Thorne Cup finals last season, the Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers enjoyed a successful first season in the Western States Hockey League. It came down to the wire last season as the Blazers pushed the defending Thorne Cup champion El Paso Rhinos to the third of a three-game set, but ultimately fell to end their season.

That loss only feeds into the want of another try next season, as the Blazers begin their second season in the WSHL, now a tier-II junior league in the United Hockey Union. The Blazers have already signed a few returnees from their inaugural roster in Lubos Vacek, Drake Johnson, and Kole Hudson – while also introducing a new names in Tomas Rubes and high-scoring forward Tomas Nemeth.

The WSHL recently released their schedule for the 2015-16 season, with a few highlights on the schedule for the Blazers. To start the season, the Blazers will begin on the road in Wichita, Kansas on October 2nd to take on the Jr. Thunder in a three-game set. The Blazers make their home debut two weeks later on October 16th as they welcome the Springfield Express for a three-game set of their own.

The next three weeks feature some unique matchups for the team this season. The Blazers head to Salt Lake City, Utah for their first matchup ever against the Salt Lake City Moose on October 23rd. Making their first trips to the Blazers Ice Centre will be the Cheyenne Stampede (October 30th-November 1st) and the Casper Coyotes (November 13-15). The Blazers met the Coyotes last season at the Western States Showdown, defeating the Coyotes 5-3. The Coyotes were the eventual Mountain Division champions.

The Tulsa Jr. Oilers makes their first visit to Oklahoma City on November 25th, while the Blazers head to Tulsa on November 11th to begin the rivalry once again. The battle of the heavyweights in the Midwest Division commences on January 15th, when the defending division champions El Paso Rhinos head to Oklahoma City. The Blazers visit El Paso on February 26th. The Blazers finish off the season at home against the Dallas Snipers on the weekend of March 4th.

Finally, the Blazers will host the inaugural WSHL All-Star Game on January 6th as they take on a team compiled of all-stars from the other teams in the WSHL.

Lots of exciting things happening at the Blazers Ice Centre this season, as the Blazers continue the tradition of hockey in Oklahoma City. 2015-16 is just around the corner.

The New AHL Schedule Format, and Things To Consider

You’ve most likely heard or seen about it by now, but just in case you haven’t, the rumors became truth in regards to the unbalanced schedule in the American Hockey League next season. Yes, I know I’m a week behind, but hey, I just got married. That’s a good excuse, right?

So anyway, we now know that the five California-based teams (Bakersfield, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton, Ontario) will play 68 games next season, while the remaining 25 AHL teams will play 76 games. We already knew that the California-based teams will be in the same division as the Texas-based teams, making it even a little bit more odd in that teams in the same division will be playing a different standard of games.

In order to combat that, the AHL announced that teams will be ranked by points percentage to determine playoff seedings, meaning that a California-based team will percentage points in a win, or lose more in a loss than any of the other teams in the league. The interesting change will be to see how the league determines tie-breakers for next season. In the three other divisions, it won’t matter much as they will have played the same amount of games. But for the Pacific Division, if Stockton were to tie with Texas, a tie-breaker of Regulation+OT Wins would be heavily weighted towards Texas.

The other interesting dynamic will come in the form of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the AHL and the PHPA. Players on AHL contracts will earn more money per game if they play for a California team, but also, they’ll face eight less games to affect their veteran status. Currently, if a player has played 260 or more professional games at the beginning of the season, they are considered a veteran. If they sit at 259 at the start of the season, they do not become one once the season begins.

Now, let’s take a player sitting at 190 games as an example. If he were to play an ironman season for the Chicago Wolves, playing in every single game of the season, he would end the season at 266 games and therefore making him a vet for the 2016-17 season. With the currently six-veteran limit on teams, it makes him a bit harder to place in the AHL. But, if he were to do the same thing for the Ontario Reign, he’d only be at 258 games and wouldn’t have to be constrained by the veteran status in 2016-17. With the CBA negotiations on-going for next season, it’ll be another interesting dynamic to see how or if it’s addressed.

Making a return next season with the now-four division league, is the crossover rule for the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Barons saw the benefits to this rule in the 2010-11 season, using it to make the playoffs in that season. The crossover allows the fifth place team in an eight-team division (the Atlantic and Central divisions this season) has a higher points percentage than the fourth place team in the seven-team division (the North and Pacific, respectively), the fifth place team crosses over and competes in the playoff in that bracket.

To describe that in simpler terms, we’ll use the Barons in 2011 as an example. The Barons finished in fifth place of the West Division with 91 points. The Abbotsford Heat finished in fourth place of the North Division with 86 points. Since the Barons finished higher, they moved over to the North Division bracket and took on the first seed Hamilton Bulldogs in the first round. To make mention of an earlier point, the tie-breaks will be interesting to look at next season.

It certainly looks odd next season, but as AHL President and CEO Dave Andrews told Sean Shapiro, nothing is set in stone beyond this season. More changes may be coming our way in 2016-17.

Dallas Stars Extend Affiliation With Idaho

Photo via Idaho Steelheads. All rights reserved. 

The Dallas Stars announced this morning that they have inked another one-year affiliation extension with the Idaho Steelheads as their go-to ECHL franchise. Having the same ECHL affiliate for what will be eleven straight seasons is quite the accomplishment, and it is also a testimony to the sturdy tendencies of front office and coaching staff in the Idaho pipeline. The extension comes as it does in typical Stars form (mid-summer, unassuming), but it also is worth watching if you are from the Oklahoma City area.

You will recall that confirmed rumors bubbled to the surface months ago about Oklahoma City nabbing an ECHL slot for the 16-17 season. Those confirmed reports came in two forms – a revival of the OKC Blazers owned by a local group, and another via the Dallas Stars, whom would be keen on an ECHL team north of the Red River.

Today’s announcement doesn’t confirm nor deny the potential for a Stars inking a deal with the city of OKC, but it sure is worth watching a year from now.

In the end my selfish tendencies have me “ALL IN” on a potential Stars affiliate residing five minutes from my front door. As a life-long Stars fan I would be delighted to see a marriage between my NHL team and my city. Chances are there are many more like me. Fingers (and toes) crossed.

via Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Stars announced today that the club will renew its affiliation with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads for the 2015-16 season.

The Steelheads have served as Dallas’ ECHL affiliate since the 2005-06 season and during the 2003-04 campaign. Idaho has reached the Kelly Cup Finals three times as an affiliate of the Dallas Stars, winning the Kelly Cup twice (2004 and 2007). The Steelheads were crowned Pacific Division champions during the 2014-15 regular season, posting a record of 48-18-2-4.

“We are extremely pleased to renew our affiliation with the Steelheads,” said Director of Hockey Operations and Texas Stars General Manager Scott White. “Head Coach Brad Ralph has done a tremendous job in Idaho, as his success in developing young players has led to the winning culture we strive to uphold at all levels of the organization. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Steelheads.”

The Texas Stars will continue to operate as Dallas’ top development affiliate in the American Hockey League.