The developmental curve for young forwards dreaming of the NHL is a steep and treacherous downhill race. Imagine standing at the top of a grassy plateau (draft day), you look down the steep embankment with wonder (donning the jersey), you lean forward (sign contract), bend your knees (head to AHL), and head furlong towards the bottom (toiling away for a shot in the big leagues). Somewhere, typically mid-hill, your legs pump so quickly that you teeter dangerously on the verge of face-planting the rest of the way down or surviving with sore muscles, a stiff back, and scars to prove you made it in one piece. To carry the analogy even further – surviving the hill is something that rarely happens. Just ask these guys.
I think that David LeNeveu is a great guy. Cornell trained, Hobey Baker tested, and unmercifully bounced around various leagues. He’s a married man who celebrates his wedding anniversary through Facebook announcements and that’s incredibly sincere and rare in today’s society. Canadian, with a 6′ 1″ smallish frame, catching left, and snatching a first round draft card within the top 50 in 2002. I’ve not met him, and I’ve not seen him play, but for all practical purposes, I like David LeNeveu. Nothing official has been made by the team, but all roads point to LeNeveu residing in Bricktown next season. Taking a look at his stats both professionally and while in school, the unsymmetrical nature of his goaltending game still has me slightly disconcerted, but I understand this move.
As a ticket purchasing, tax paying, puck loving fan I’m slightly concerned about something. No, I’m not necessarily worried about the eventual fate of Alex Plante, nor am I baffled by the correct pronunciation of Yann Danis. My actual concern lies in the organizational scheme and progress of both Prodigal Hockey and the Oklahoma City Barons.
The web is a weird and wonderful place. It’s a place where the free-thinkers, overtly-angry, and insanely-opinionated hang out and spew forth venom of mostly unimportant knowledge. Okay, maybe that’s the weird part of the web. However, it is nearly impossible to say that the web is anything less than entertaining.
The wide corridor of twitter has become a landing spot for celebs, newsmakers, and sports figures to “drop it likes it’s hot” and “plank” in various forms.
Trying to find one word to describe Barons Head Coach, Todd Nelson, is preposterous. He’s a coach with successes, and a former player with work ethic. He’s shaped the youthful excitement at several levels with a sharp focus on how that’s done. He’s worked the system as much as he’s been worked by the system. As the Barons began their fledgling year, and to some extent Todd Nelson’s, the organizational goals were not lofty, but Coach Nelson knew better. After the Oilers affiliation with Springfield ended in shambles, the wide-open future was for the taking.
As someone whom lives, works, plays, dreams, cheers, and explores Oklahoma City, I often try to describe to outsiders what this “neck of the woods” is like. I could talk about the people and their kindness. I could mention the wealthy oil history. I could debate the Orange vs Crimson sporting heritage. And I could orate just how much promise the city holds in its near future. But like many other residents of their own metropolitan cities, it’s best experienced first hand.
Today, the American League announced a) team opponents b) how often those two would see each other during the season c) road vs. away numbers of games. Moreover, the Oklahoma City Barons found out their rivals for their second season on the farm. There isn’t much to trumpet about in this regard because the American League is not fond of diversity. Unless, of course, you find that by moving a typically Eastern team into the Western Conference via re-alignment is diversity, than by all means, call it diverse.
Flash back to a younger version of me. A late-80’s kid who was kind of quiet, loved his pop music, and owned a tragic amount of parachute pants (in neon colors nonetheless). The first time I stepped foot on any type of ice surface there were no skates aboard my feet, no helmet on my head, and not a stick in sight. No, my first on-ice experience was in tennis shoes and armed with a long-handled broom. Broom hockey, a popular pastime for youngsters where ice and ice hockey are foreign words, birthed my introduction into hockey obsessiveness.
In 2011, the same type of game is played in Oklahoma with the support of its AHL hockey team.
In an attempt to further connect with the community, and grow the sport of hockey within the state, the Oklahoma City Barons have partnered with local schools to bring all that is good about hockey to kids who have never heard the words “five minute major” or “crosschecking.”
“What we are trying to do is grow hockey at a grassroots level, ” says Barons Director of Communications, Josh Evans, “We don’t have the resources to put 30 kids in pads, gloves, and helmets, so we took the game to them in a simple way.” And by simple he means simple. Small sticks, round plastic ball, and a gym floor are the tools of the floor hockey trade. “We are indeed doing some branding for the Barons, but we realize that the success of hockey in Oklahoma continues to be through kids,” says Evans.
As the end of the Barons inaugural season grew closer, an intelligent member of the season ticket advisory board mentioned seeing kids play floor hockey in Dallas, and thought the idea would be successful in Oklahoma City. The idea was birthed as a way to bring hockey to the attention of young people. “Right now we are introducing floor hockey to as many summer programs as possible,” mentions Evans, “This allows us to to stay in touch with school leaders over the summer, then once the schoolyear starts we now have a vehicle to communicate to local schools that, ‘Yes, the Barons can help in your physical education program.'”
The program, still in the very early stages, began in early June at the downtown YMCA location. “By the end of the summer we will have been involved with three of the seven YMCA’s throughout the metro area,” states Evans, “In addition, we have been to Oklahoma City Community College, have recently begun a relationship with Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation, as well as several Tinker Air Force Base locations”
As the floor hockey initiative continues throughout the city’s summer months, look for the newly-minted Barons players to join in. “Not everyone (Barons players) are comfortable with sitting down and reading a book to an audience of kids, but I’d imagine that all of them would be in favor of talking a little hockey, and then jumping out and playing with the kids,” says Josh Evans. This connection, between player, child, and game, is a key aspect of why this program has been met with great excitement, and reveals its potential come hockey season.
However, don’t assume that it’s just child’s play. “We have been discussing ways of applying this concept to adults,” laments Evans, “Why not approach a company, who has access to a gym, and a allow them access to players, equipment, fundamental training, and then let them play. There are many that might be on the fence about purchasing a ticket, coming to a game, and enjoying themselves – this might be the introduction they need.”
The site of Oklahoma kids running in sandals across a gym floor, chopping away at anything that might look like a ball or a puck is quite a rare thing. But the enjoyment, celebration, and excitement displayed by these middle schoolers is evident. (note: they already know how to celebrate, hockey stick overhead)
The Barons organization continues the slow and steady process of introducing itself to an intelligent sports community that needs a nudge towards understanding (and loving) the game of hockey. Yes, this is a ticket selling promotion, but at the heart of the matter lies a higher goal; that the young and the young at heart grow to love hockey.
As we embrace the summer heat and wind that blows like a firehose of molten lava, we Oklahomans long for the winter months where the air is cold and dry. We look forward to football season with the gusto of a 16 year old getting their drivers license, and we proudly display the crimson and cream or orange and black (in my case, an Okie-Buckeye, I outdo them both in scarlet and grey. wink. wink.). However, there has always been a small but passionate group of Okies that yearn for things greater than college football. We indeed are smart, as we turn our gaze towards the rink. A frozen indoor tundra full of men eager to “light the lamp” and lose some teeth in the process. Yes, of course, I’m talking about hockey. And, yes, I’m talking about Oklahoma hockey.
As the OKC Blazers of the Central Hockey League closed their doors, the promise of a “better brand of hockey” was on the sports horizon. When the news of the A coming to town broke, we all shouted ‘Drop That Puck!’ in unison, and when we dug deeper and learned that the team would farm for the Edmonton Oilers we all secretly wanted to erect flaming oil derricks in our living rooms. The hockey gods had smiled upon us and we were ready for the history of great hockey to continue in OKC, and for that history to now be connected to the iconic Oilers organization.
Recently, the great folks at ‘Copper & Blue’ posted an excellent article wondering what can be expected from the non-hockey market of OKC, “Mick for Mayor” interview and all! Rest assured hockey youngsters playing in the OKC metro area, there is much more to Oklahoma City than tornadoes, cowboys, and the Bible belt (although those things will NEVER go away). Here are just a few things you will soon find out and grow to admire about your NEW city.
Get Your Eat On…Steak Is Our Friend
Not too far from the downtown OKC Cox Center, formerly know as the Myriad or Incomparable Myriad, lies the smelliest part of our town. A smell that while normally would curl your toes will soon have you salivating? Why? The stockyards my friend, the stockyards. Nestled directly in front of thousands of cattle and cowpokes lies one of the best steak eateries in the south, Cattleman’s. I just slobbered on my MacBook as I wrote that. And trust me when I say this, you WILL NEVER LOOK AT A COW THE SAME WAY AGAIN. You’ll look at at his back and you’ll get giddy about a t-bone. You’ll see the hip and begin dreaming about side dishes to accompany your filet mignon. Trust me, it will happen. Steak is our friend.
Ya’ll Warsh Yer Hands. Ifinyadont…
We all try to hide it. We all try to deny it. We all don’t realize we do it. No matter which way you slice it, Oklahomans have strange sayings. It’s kind of like that old Abercrombie sweater you bought for 90% off at the beginning of summer…you’re proud and embarrassed by it all at the same time. We like to compare things to animals, “duck on a june bug”, “dog’s hind leg”and my favorite, “poor as Job’s turkey”. We just can’t help it. With all this wide open space we just love relating things to our four-legged and sometimes two-legged friends. When you step off the plane at Will Rogers, trade in your Canadian “Eh” for a good ole’ “Howdy”.
Those Country Songs Were Sooooo Right (Kinda)
Ugh, here comes the portion of the blog post where I talk about how cool country music can be. About how Garth Brooks’ song “The Dance” meant so much to me when I was a kid. Lame, right? I agree. Country music, much like eating roasted duck, is an acquired taste. Cringe-inducing twang, silly thematic elements, and too many mentions of “hick” to count all add up to a somewhat dreadful musical ear-plosion. I’ve somewhat mellowed as the years go by and I’ve kind of begun to enjoy a country and western tune now and then. However there is no denying that country music embraces kindness and comradery like no other genre. Oklahomans band together during hard times (tornadoes, floods, ice storms, bombings), and always support community. OKC Barons fans WILL BE LOYAL TO THEIR TEAM, they WILL SUPPORT THE PLAYERS, and they WILL DESPISE YOU if you don’t love them back. Plain and simple. The great Woody Guthrie put it best when he wrote “All Work Together”, “I can paint my fence. Mow my lawn. But if we all work together, well it shouldn’t take long”.
We’ve Come A Long Way Baby
There was a time, not too long ago, that OKCers avoided downtown like it was a pair of stone-washed jeans. Old publishing companies, random worn out office spaces, some kind of strange botanical garden, the list goes on. The only trip sports fans took downtown was the occasional bull riding event and of course for the OKC Blazers. Now you can catch the Redhawks at the Bricktown Ballpark, see the Thunder battle at the For Center, catch a great show at local theaters, eat some incredible food, hear some great music, and live in apartments all in the Bricktown area. It’s a work in progress. Still small, but what a difference 10+ years makes. And the Bricktown area isn’t the only place surging, many of the surrounding areas have incredible housing options that range from affordable to Ilya Kovalchuk (too soon hockey fans?).
What’s Good For The Kevin Is Good For The Colin
That’s hilarious, the NBA in Oklahoma City. You’re kidding. Are the players going to live in teepee’s and ride horses to the games? No way you’ll ever get guys to stay here. As the Beatles once said, “ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra”. Life went on and brought the painfully dreadful Supersonics to town and a Thunderous team was born. I know, I know, it’s still early to judge this Thunder team, but after Durantula finished his entry contract he goes out and signs a nice contract TO STAY IN OKC. Surely all those zeroes played a part in that decision, but don’t think he couldn’t make more elsewhere (just not in Miami). Big time players and small time players alike can, have and will make it in OKC. Fan support is a huge part of that. Corporate sponsorship as well. So, Colin McDonald, I’ll see you at the Disney on Ice come September because you’ll be fine in OKC.
In the end, I challenge all current and future OKC Barons/Edmonton Oilers players that head down south to the great state of Oklahoma to treat your visit as if you were Dr. Livingstone (relation? why, yes!) traveling the Nile River. Have an open mind, enjoy the moment, and you’ll want to come back for more. BONUS: We don’t have giant man-eating bugs to deal with as did Dr. Livingstone. At least not during the winter months 🙂
If you’re in OKC and you’re a hockey fan, the news of an Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate in your town is met with incredible excitement and fervor. In a city that recently welcomed an NBA franchise, it seemed that hockey was taking a back seat. Fear not! Mr. Funk closes the chapter on the Central League Blazers in favor of a more relevant (and more profitable) AHL team. Even before the first puck drops the excitement is building. Here are a few reasons why YOU need to jump on the OKC Barons bandwagon NOW!
The Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers joined the NHL in 1979 and quickly became a powerhouse in the league winning five Stanley Cups in only 7 years. Dubbed the “Dynasty Years”, the Oilers saw many future Hall of Famers glide across their rink. The likes of Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jacques Plante firmly nestled the Edmonton team into the upper echelons of NHL play. And although they struggled through most of the 90’s, the team surprised everyone by making it to the Cup Finals in 2006. What a historic team! Take pride in being affiliated with one of the most successful NON-original six teams.
Up & Coming Players
Picking first in the NHL entry draft is a great thing only if you pick carefully. Ironically, the crop of young up and comers in this years entry draft all could find a nice home in Edmonton. But let’s look beyond the BIG team and focus on the up and comers in the AHL. Have you ever heard of Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux? The two combined have 85 goals, 124 assists, and 209 points all accumulated for the Hershey Bears during the 09-10 season. Or how about Cedrick Desjardins who racked up 29 wins and only 9 losses in net for the Hamilton Bulldogs? All of these guys have future NHL written all over them. The OKC Barons haven’t named a coaching staff or listed any rosters, but believe me when I say this, you will see the NHL future from your cozy seat in the Cox Center.
OKC Hockey History
You may not have realized this, but Oklahoma City has celebrated hockey for well over 70 years. The Oklahoma City Warriors of the AHA formed in 1933 where their home rink was at the Stockyard Coliseum (two words that strangely don’t go together). The team moved to Minneapolis after two seasons, but saw the beginnings of what would be a great hockey fan base. Believe it or not, players for the Warriors included Helge Bostrom and Bobby Burns who had lengthy stints with the Chicago Blackhawks. One OKC Warrior player, Frank Ingram, played two and a half seasons for the Hawks and later retired in Edmond, Oklahoma where he died in 1985. Fast forward to 1965 and the birth of the Blazers. Between 1965-1977 the OKC Blazers “farmed” for the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team would later become the OKC Stars for a brief time before returning to the OKC Blazers once the Central League was re-established. Needless to say, Oklahoma City has hockey roots that are firmly planted. Along comes the AHL OKC Barons and the roots go a little deeper.
More Bang For Your Buck
Cheap ticket prices. Great hockey. Mid-week and weekend games. Competitive play. The “close to the action” feel of small buildings. All of these make for a great night on the town. If you’re a casual fan of the game and maybe caught a few Blazers games over the years, be prepared for a better brand of hockey. I, for one, was a huge Blazer fan. I’ll miss those players and teams, but with great talent developing before our eyes in the AHL you can’t help but get more bang for your buck.
Hockey Makes You Cool
No matter how you slice it, AHL, CHL, or NHL, hockey is cool. It’s rough and graceful. Passionate and sincere. No sports fan can deny the fact that hockey is a sport of determination and grit. What better place for such a sport than in Oklahoma City where people understand the pioneer spirit best. We work and play hard. We value community. We stand up for what’s right. We stick with our friends. I’m not one to wax poetic, but the correlation between hockey and the city of OKC is so perfect. And what about those jerseys? Sorry OKC Thunder, the AHL Barons got the cooler logo. Can’t wait to get my swag! Join me and you’ll be cool too.
What do you think? Why do you love hockey in OKC? Any other reasons why people should jump on the OKC Barons bandwagon? Let me hear from you people. Post your comments below.