Oklahoma City Blazers complete Week One of training camp

This week at the Blazers Ice Centre was one of the most anticipated times of the hockey season, the beginning of training camp. Training camp provides coaches and fans alike the opportunity to get a look at their new team as they get set for the upcoming season. For the Oklahoma city Blazers in particular, it brought together some familiar faces and new faces to the locker room.
Oklahoma City saw a total of 14 players age out at the end of last season, resulting in many positions needing to be filled by head coach Tyler Fleck for 2016-17. This season, a new crop of skilled and speedy players have made their way to Oklahoma City.

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New Evansville SPHL Team Possibly To Be Called Thunderbolts?

A lot has been made over the last few months regarding the breakup between the Evansville IceMen and the city of Evansville, Indiana. Lease negotiations took place during pretty much the entire ECHL season as the team looked to stay in Evansville, but talks broke down and the IceMen ultimately decided to move to Owensboro, Kentucky.

What had originally looked to be a move that would take effect next season, the IceMen later announced that due to the facility that was to be their new home in Owensboro needing extensive renovations, the team would be dormant for next season with a plan to begin anew in the 2017-18 season.

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The One Where We Answer Recent Questions About The OKC Barons

There’s been a lot of questions lately regarding some of the roster moves by the Oklahoma City Barons and the Edmonton Oilers, the AHL Vet Rule, and just how they affect the Barons as well as the ECHL and CHL teams that players have recently been assigned to. So today, we’ll take a quick look at some of those questions and answer them along the way.

Question #1: What is the AHL Vet Rule? As defined by the AHL, a player is considered a veteran when they have played in 260 or more games in the NHL, AHL, or a European Elite League when the season begins. If a player has played 259 qualifying games when the season begins, they will not be considered a veteran for the course of the entire current season. Goaltenders are not affected by the Vet Rule.

Question #2: How many vets can an AHL team have? AHL teams can have an unlimited number of vets on their roster, just as they can have an unlimited number of players on their roster, but they are only allowed to play a maximum of six per game. At least one of the six must have played in less than 320 games. Goaltenders are not counted against the Vet Rule.

Question #3: What is considered a European Elite League? There has never been a definitive list of leagues that I have ever seen, but leagues included in that are the KHL (Russia), SHL (Sweden), Liiga (Finland), DEL (Germany), and NLA (Switzerland).

Question #4: Who is considered a vet on the OKC Barons? The Barons currently have seven vets on their roster, meaning one has to sit out each game. The seven current players are:

Steve MacIntyre: 179 AHL games + 91 NHL games = 280 GP
Denis Grebeshkov: 166 AHL games + 144 KHL games + 227 NHL games = 537 GP
Ben Eager: 132 AHL games + 400 NHL games = 532 GP
Matthew Ford: 274 AHL games = 274 GP
Derek Nesbitt: 320 AHL games = 320 GP
Ryan Hamilton: 421 AHL games + 12 NHL games = 433 GP
Linus Omark: 46 AHL games + 56 KHL games + 48 NLA games + 177 SHL games + 65 NHL games = 392 GP

Question #5: What about Anton Lander? While Lander has technically played enough games to be considered a vet, his games played during “junior eligible years” don’t count towards the vet rule. Whether that rule applies to players that played in the NHL during junior eligible years, I don’t know.

Question #6: Do games played in the CHL or ECHL count? No, leagues below the AHL do not count towards the vet rule limit. Players like Erick Lizon who have played the majority of their career in the CHL and ECHL are not counted towards the vet rule.

Question #7: Why was Austin Fyten assigned to Idaho? At the end of each ECHL season, teams are allowed to “protect” players rights for the next season. Fyten played last season for the Steelheads on an ECHL contract and was protected at the end of the season. As such, he had to be assigned to Idaho if he were to be assigned to the ECHL this season.

Question #8: So the same goes for Erick Lizon going to Wichita then? Technically. While Lizon’s rights were held by Wichita in the CHL, he could technically have been sent to any ECHL team as there is no longer an agreement between the two leagues to honor such deals. In the same vein, Fyten could have technically been assigned to any CHL team as well. Due to the players having pre-existing deals with those teams however, those are being honored.

Question #9: What can be done to have Fyten playing in Bakersfield? It is possible for the Bakersfield Condors to trade for his rights, therefore allowing him to play in Bakersfield. If Fyten were to be signed to an NHL contract, that would also allow him to be assigned to Bakersfield.

Any other questions? Hit me up on Twitter, @ericrsports and let me know.

Prodigal’s New Soccer Team, And What That May Mean For The OKC Barons

The story we’ve been covering over the past few weeks regarding the possible name and logo of Prodigal’s new USL PRO soccer team has finally reached the point of being official as Prodigal announced the team as being named OKC Energy FC. After looking at the new team’s website, seeing the work that has been put into the shiny new franchise, my fears grew bigger that this may spell the end of Oklahoma City hockey as we know it.

When the soccer team was first announced back in July, my fears were small that Prodigal would treat the Oklahoma City Barons as a “red-headed step-child” as the soccer team was going to be an individual venture by the management group. While it’s understandable that someone would want to put the care into something like that, one would also hope that they would give the same time and care to something they already have possession of and another big entity behind it such as the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately it seems that after three years of mediocre attendance and little to no media coverage outside of the NHL Lockout period last season, Prodigal is starting to lean towards sowing their seeds elsewhere.

One look at the Energy’s website is the first big clue to them putting more eggs into the soccer team’s basket. Not once have I seen the quality of the images and renderings that are currently on the Energy site, on the Barons site. It’s obvious they have the technology and someone with the knowledge on how to do it, but they haven’t given any of it to the hockey side of things. On their Twitter feed, they start with a giveaway of the new team scarves and start offering free seats to a game to another blogger located in Oklahoma City, trying to change their mind about the team (meanwhile they block me from their Twitter account after five minutes of following, but I digress). For the Barons, they’ve done nothing but maintain that giving away seats is a bad thing and do all they can to refuse to.

Probably the biggest tell in all of this, Prodigal is adamant about building a soccer specific stadium in downtown Oklahoma City. With the uncertainty of the Cox Convention Center, the Barons most likely need a new place to play. If Prodigal is more wanting to spend the money on a new soccer stadium, you can pretty well guess that the Barons are going to be squeezed out of Oklahoma City if something doesn’t change soon.

In a perfect world, there’s another management/ownership group in Oklahoma City that is ready and waiting to take over the Barons should Prodigal decide to move out of the picture. But as everyone knows, things rarely ever end up that perfect.

Don’t get me wrong in that I’m trying to run them down for doing these things. Maybe they’re changing their ways from how they run the Barons and are trying new things, and that’s great. But as an OKC Barons fan, this worries me that they decided to do this three years too late and still haven’t done those things with the Barons team itself. Other than the Linus Omark goal during the Kid’s Day game, you haven’t heard much at all about the Barons this season anywhere in Oklahoma City. It’s been a frustrating season for a lot of people that are fans of the Oilers organization, but I would certainly hate to lose hockey in OKC, 50 transactions a month or not. I fear that’s the path that we’re currently on.

New Possibilities For USL OKC Soccer Team Names, Crests Included

A month ago to the day, we brought you a couple of the possible names for the upcoming Prodigal USL PRO soccer team, set to kick off during the 2014 season. Today, we bring you a couple more names with some accompanying crests. Found today are possible names of OKC Aeros FC, OKC Wind FC, and OKC 46ers FC. With the exception of OKC Aeros FC, we have the crests of the latter two, along with the crests for the previously found OKC Energy FC and OKC Spirit FC, giving us a look at the possible identities and colors that Prodigal has brought to the table. So without further adieu, your possible Oklahoma City USL PRO team name.

OKC Energy FC

The OKC Energy FC crest features a steel blue and lime green color scheme that seems to go together relatively well, but I’m not sure how that would translate on a kit design. “Labor Omnia Vincit” adorn the top of the crest, Latin for “Work Conquers All.” The phrase comes from a an ancient Roman poem that supported Augustus Caesar’s “Back to the Land” policy, encouraging more Romans to become farmers. Given the history of ranching and oil work in the state, it certainly fits the local vibe. The biggest issue I have with the crest is the star in the center seeming to be off just a bit. That it’s not one solid line and continues to feed into the circle surrounding it is a bit off-putting in my opinion.

OKC Spirit FC

Probably my front-runner as far as the crest goes, but I’m still not a fan of the name. A good looking shield with the state outline at the top, and a hawk/eagle/bird design that emulates the Native American style of bird drawings. You can also make a case that it has an effect of a B2 Bomber image, bringing in the Air Force element of the local Tinker Air Force Base. Once again, a steel blue color used with silver.

 OKC Wind FC

Retro, plain, meh. When you have the Oklahoma City Thunder already, I’m not a fan of another weather-themed name in the city. Another blue color being the primary color, you can see a pattern of what Prodigal is going for.

OKC Flyers FC

Yet another blue, but this time it’s not the primary color, as maroon makes a bigger splash with this crest. The state bird, a scissor-tailed flycatcher takes center stage, with the head making out the dome at the top of the state capitol building. With the new Skydance bridge in Oklahoma City over I-40, a lot of people have been talking about the flycatcher taking on a bit more meaning in the city. I’m not too sure of using the maroon as a main color, but I’d reserve my judgement until seeing a kit design. This one sits as my second choice right now.

OKC 46ers FC

Another red and blue combo, this one stumped us for a bit. Usually when a team uses a name such as “46ers,” you think of a significant year that something happened in the locale. For the San Francisco 49ers, it was the gold rush. For the Philadelphia 76ers, it was the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For Oklahoma City, we couldn’t find any such thing for any such date without really reaching. Then a lightbulb went off and we think we have it figured out. Oklahoma was the 46th state admitted to the United States. Further evidence to that being the reasoning behind it, the Oklahoma state flag from 1911-1925 featured a single star with the number 46 in the center. Overall, I think the crest looks good, colors work, but once again, not a big fan of the name.

What say you?

Tend The Farm Soccer: An Interview with OKC NASL’s Chris Taylor

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of talk about the new soccer teams coming to Oklahoma City over the next couple of years. For me personally, I grew up playing soccer in small town rec-leagues, but I was never in an area that the sport was extremely huge, or really all that talked about. That’s changing locally now, and I am excited about that.

From the North American Soccer League, they’re bringing a franchise that is being headed up by businessman Tim McLaughlin. The NASL was founded in 2009 and was named the second tier United States soccer league soon after. Beginning with eight teams from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, the league is looking to reach a mass expansion with three teams joining in 2014, and another two in 2015 of which one is Oklahoma City.

One of the first moves that McLaughlin and the NASL team made, was to bring in former MLS player and Oklahoma City native, Chris Taylor. “With the timing of my release in Portland, I thought that this was a great opportunity for me and this was a good match. I had high hopes for Oklahoma City’s plans for professional soccer and I wanted to create something special in OKC with something that the city has never seen, the highest level of professional soccer in Oklahoma City,” Chris explained. “It’s a sport that I’ve spent 20 years playing, and where better to get my start in sports business than my home state?”

A graduate from University of Tulsa with a major in Business Management, specializing in Entrepreneurship, he was an NSCAA Scholar All-American with the Golden Hurricanes’ in 2009, and part of their three-year run of winning Conference-USA conference championships in 2007, 08, and 09. Following his time in college, he then entered into the MLS Superdraft, where he was drafted in the second round with the 22nd pick by the Portland Timbers in their first season of play. After spending two seasons and part of a third with the Timbers organization, Taylor was released this past year, leading him back to Oklahoma City.

But with still another year before the NASL team begins playing, Taylor said that the organization hopes to establish a prominent brand, even before the team takes the pitch for the first time at Taft Stadium. “We want to create buzz among the non-soccer crowd, as well as reaching out to the ‘already soccer fans’ in OKC too.”

In a city that is already dominated by the Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as OU, OSU, TU, and other colleges, Taylor sees the allure of the soccer atmosphere as something that will set their team apart from the aforementioned groups. “The community as a whole has always been a college environment, and now there’s Thunder-nation. Once we have our first game, once things become tangible, we think people will realize that soccer is a different environment than OU, OSU, and the Thunder. The amount of passion in soccer in international play, or in Portland as I experienced, is truly incredible. Fans, when they come to games, will be able to experience something they never have before and be a part of it. Supporters groups are relevant and extremely passionate about the team and especially the game. We are going to bring an experience that will make people say ‘Wow, this is a part of my city,’ and maybe even join the supporters group.”

That’s just off the pitch. In the US Soccer pyramid, the NASL sits as the second-tier league below the MLS. “Fans can for sure expect players of international quality. People will see that this is a legit league, and will be something that kids coming up will definitely latch on to,” Taylor continued. “Someone like me would have needed to leave Oklahoma City to make a living playing professional soccer, but now there’s that team in Oklahoma City that can provide that living.”

Despite being a league of currently eight teams playing – and will be 13 by the time Oklahoma City begins playing – Taylor says there are already some tailor-made rivalries awaiting the team. “San Antonio has been itching to have someone closer that their fans can make trips to. I’ve heard of an I-35 rivalry with Minnesota even. You always look at the nearest teams. To be able to create rivalries is a great thing for the game as it helps grow with the fans and the crowds. It provides fans an influential outcome of the game.”

As the team begins to build its strategy over the next year, they have an example already of what route to follow in the Indy Eleven. Indy begins play next year and Taylor says they have already paved a trail for the Oklahoma City team to follow. “They’ve been able to secure 6,500 season tickets and that is absolutely incredible for a city that has two professional sports teams, and one of those being arguably the most popular sport in football. They’ve been able to reach out and grab the fans. With the passion they have, they’ve done a fantastic job to this point. That’s a group we’d like to emulate. It’s a different community, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tailor it to Oklahoma City.”

Taylor also mentioned the closer market in San Antonio: “San Antonio has their own stadium that is absolutely fabulous. It’s a great soccer environment and the attendance will grow as the NASL continues to grow. They’ve been able to find the niche and grow it into something that you almost can’t call a niche anymore.” San Antonio’s attendance dipped below six-thousand people only once during the fall season, averaging 6763 over the course of seven home games.

At only the age of 24, Taylor doesn’t see this as a permanent move to the front office, however, and still sees himself playing in the future. “I’m 24, young, and in my prime. People ask me why I’m doing this now. In the professional landscape, life is dependent on having a good match, where every day is you’re competing for your job. It can be that you have a great game one week, and then three weeks later be on the bench.

“To be able to have some normalcy, lay some roots, it’s a nice thing to be a part of. However, there’s nothing better than walking out with your teammates and walking out of that tunnel to the crowd’s roar. I’m still training, but I look at this as a way to get business experience in a field that I know and love. I would have been a little disappointed to not be a part of this in Oklahoma City.” And Taylor means that literally. “I want to be a part of history in Oklahoma City, and I’m hoping to suit up and be a part of the team on opening night.”

Toni Rajala signs in Sweden

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.

Former Oklahoma City Barons forward Toni Rajala has finally signed with a team for this season, with HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League. The news comes after the Edmonton Oilers agreed to a mutual termination of his contract during this past offseason. Rajala joins former AHLers Riley Holzapfel, Jason Krog, Brett Sterling, and current Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach – on loan to the team for a three-week tryout.

A great skater and hockey mind, Rajala is a big piece of the puzzle that Oklahoma City is missing this season, and it’s shown during the first four games of the AHL season. While the Barons found some scoring this past Sunday, there hasn’t been that one clear-cut player that the team is able to rely on for offense. Not to say that things would have been drastically different if Rajala was on the Barons roster, but that expectation was certainly there following last season’s performance.

It’s great to see Toni back on the ice this season, after some comments that seemed to insinuate that something was going on behind the scenes, but it’s very possible it was a case of European small talk that we misinterpret all too often. Regardless of the circumstances though, it’s great to see and I wish him nothing but the best of luck.

Google Translated press release from HV71:

HV71 acquires Finnish striker Toni Rajala, 22, who most recently Edmonton Oilers organization. Rajala is described as a skate fast player who is good with the puck and produces a lot of points.

– Toni is a skater and declarer of rank. He possesses all the technical qualities of both the player and scorer. He will bring creativity, says sports director Fredrik Stillman.

Rajala senior began his career in the Finnish Ilves. In total, he has played 116 games in the Finnish league and produced 56 points.

Last season Rajala played 46 games with the AHL team Oklahoma City Barons, where he accounted for 45 points, and 16 points in 17 playoff games.

Toni has been resident in the Finnish junior national team since U16. Overall played 125 national team matches (U16 to U20) and produced 151 points.

The contract is for the season. Rajala join the team tomorrow and you’re working on trying to get him ready for play for Wednesday’s away game against Luleå.

(s/t @ArtoPalovaara for the heads up)

Larsen Recalled, Davidson Returns, Grebeshkov Assigned For Conditioning

Photo Courtesy of Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.

As the Oklahoma City Barons prepare to take on the Iowa Wild, they end up having to make some more last minute changes as Philip Larsen gets recalled to the Edmonton Oilers and receive back Brandon Davidson. They also have to make some more room as well, picking up Denis Grebeshkov, who is joining the Barons on a conditioning stint as he returns from a groin injury suffered during the preseason.

Larsen heads to the Oilers as one of two players currently leading the Barons in scoring. In two games, Larsen has two points, one of which was a finish of a tic-tac-toe play on a power play where he wisely chose to pinch towards the goal crease and be in perfect position to score. Davidson returns after spending the past week with the Oilers, not having gotten into any games, but he certainly got some great experience as he was able to practice with the big club and learn while he was there. Despite not yet making his NHL debut, it gave Davidson that taste of what it could be like, and I’m sure he’ll be extremely hungry for more as the season wears on.

Grebeshkov will join the Barons for a conditioning stint, much like Theo Peckham did last season, wearing the number 37. Returning from injury, Grebeshkov will play in his first American Hockey League game since the 2005-06 season where he scored 27 points in 48 regular season games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, adding two more points in seven playoff games. What does a conditioning stint entail? From the NHL’s CBA:

Unless a Player consents, he shall not be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan to a minor league club. Such Conditioning Loan shall not extend for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days.

Over the next 14 days, the Barons will play in six games, two against Texas, Abbotsford, and this coming weekend against Iowa. Their first game against the Wild will be tomorrow night in Des Moines, with a rematch on Sunday afternoon.

Toni Rajala: “I’m not just playing.”

In what was the most surprising move this summer, we saw Toni Rajala released from his Edmonton Oilers contract. No real explanation, no real warning, just out of the blue and sudden. Many first thoughts were that the Oilers were making room for another contract, or that they didn’t feel he was going to work in the new system and decided to just release him outright. But after a great season in the American Hockey League, scoring 45 points in 46 games with the Oklahoma City Barons, it seemed a very odd move to let a player like that go for nothing in return.

It’s been of great interest to me where Rajala was going to end up. There were many rumors that he was going back home to play for Ilves of the Finnish Liiga, or perhaps following Teemu Hartikainen to Russia and the KHL. Both of those rumors haven’t panned out though, and as we sit a week into the NHL and AHL seasons and about a month into all of Europe’s hockey seasons, Rajala still remains unsigned. I’ve been keeping an eye on Twitter and other outlets, just seeing if I could find out where he was heading, if there was any indication of where he was going to play, anything. Last night, I happened about this tweet.

Obviously in Finnish, even Google Translator was puzzled as to what Rajala’s response was. Thankfully, Patricia Teter enlisted the help of Arto Palovaara – chief writer of The Lion Chronicle, which provides hockey news from Finland and the Liiga in English form – and he was kind enough to translate the tweet for us.

With a response like that, you have to wonder if there isn’t something bigger than hockey going on right now for Rajala. With how quick and sudden the release was from Edmonton, it would certainly make sense. Regardless of the circumstances, Toni is a great player. I certainly hope that we’ll see him back on the ice soon, rather than later.