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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Oklahoma City Blazers rebound against Tulsa, win 10-2

The Oklahoma City Blazers returned home to the Blazers Ice Centre after splitting a weekend in Wichita, and suffering their largest loss of the season the night before in Tulsa against the Jr. Oilers. Friday night saw a rare pulling of goaltender Ole Nilson and an 8-3 loss at the hands of the Jr. Oilers. In game two of a home-and-home-and-home series, the Blazers looked to rebound and exact a little bit of revenge.

Coach Tyler Fleck showed his confidence in his goaltender and put Ole Nilson back in net to start on Saturday night. The first period was a back-and-forth affair as Tulsa matched every move that the Blazers made. Pavel Oxiouta opened the scoring for OKC at 4:05, and less than two minutes later it was Maxim Chegrintcev tying it up for Tulsa. Ivan Bondarenko put OKC back up 2-1 at the 9:43 mark. A big fight broke out between the Blazers Alex Yuk and Tulsa’s Taner Byrd, with both players landing big punches, but Yuk landed a few more to gain the edge over Byrd. Tulsa answered back on the scoresheet as Ivan Bukshevannyy made it a 2-2 game at 15:12, sending the game to the intermission with the tied score.

In the second period, the Blazers turned a corner and things began to click for the Oklahoma City team. 6:19 into the period, a great play by Jiri Hajda kept the puck in at the blue line during a Tulsa clearing attempt. Hajda then sent the puck towards the net and Tomas Rubes was there to pick up the rebound and scored to give OKC the 3-2 lead. Three minutes later, the Blazers found themselves on a power play. A shot from the point by Marek Charvat was blocked by the pads of Tulsa goaltender Philip Babb, but the juicy rebound went right to the stick of Kirill Romanov, who made sure it went in and put the Blazers up 4-2.

As play traveled to the Tulsa end of the ice, a check by Blazers defenseman Michal Beranek was called by the referee as an interference penalty. Blazers head coach Tyler Fleck, a seasoned defenseman himself, took exception to the call and was promptly thrown from the game by the referee. The Blazers Colton Nelson commented after the game how it’s great to have a coach that will stand up for his team and that it gave the team a boost after. That boost showed as the Blazers were able to kill the minor penalty and Kirill Romanov jumped off the bench, received a breakaway pass and scored his second in a row to make it a 5-2 OKC lead, the score after two periods of play.

The momentum kept rolling for the Blazers into the third period, and after just 1:09, a point shot from Michal Beranek made its way through traffic and into the net to make it 6-2, and just sixteen seconds later it was Tomas Nemeth putting it home to make it 7-2. Making it three goals in the span of sixty seconds, Denis Skokor found the puck sitting behind the goaltender Babb after it skittered through his legs and Skokor made it 8-2 with 17:51 to go and chasing the Tulsa goaltender.

Near the midway point of the period, it was Skokor again, but this time he showed off his stickhandling skills by working his way around a defender and laying a perfect pass to Marek Charvat in front of the goal. An easy tap-in by Charvat made it 9-2 with 12:35 left in the period. The Blazers kept the Jr. Oilers hemmed into their own zone for most of the remainder of the game, allowing only three shots to make their way to Ole Nilson – and five overall throughout the final forty minutes – and it was Kirill Romanov who came roaring in and made it a 10-2 game to pick up the hat trick and to close out the win for the Blazers.

Ole Nilson put the blame for Friday night on himself, but was happy to bounce back and get the chance to prove himself in net once again. He credited his team’s defense and offense for the win after the game, “When you have guys that score ten goals a night, it’s nice to win a game.”

Kirill Romanov scored his second hat trick with the Oklahoma City Blazers, thanking his team and even thanking equipment manager Kacee Coberly as well for the help in scoring the hat trick. Romanov felt the loss helped the team bond a little bit and helped the team come together for the win, and that it will continue into their rubber game against the Oilers on Sunday.

The Blazers take on the Oilers at 3:15 this afternoon, looking to take the weekend series from Tulsa and keep the momentum going as they take on the Dallas Snipers next weekend.

 

Up-and-down Weekend Brings the OKC Blazers Back to Earth

The Oklahoma City Blazers were riding a six-game winning streak coming into this past weekend, sweeping their second series in a row against the Salt Lake City Moose on the road, and were riding high as they got set to take on the Cheyenne Stampede back at home. The weekend started extremely high for the Blazers, but a set-back brought them back down.

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OKC Blazers sweep Springfield in Home-Opening Weekend

After opening up the season on the road, the Oklahoma City Blazers returned home to the Blazers Ice Centre this past weekend, welcoming the Springfield Express. Led by head coach Jeremy Law, the Express entered the weekend with a 5-2-2 record, while coach Tyler Fleck and the Blazers entered with a 2-1-0 record.

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OKC Blazers forced to cancel Canadian road trip

Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Blazers of the WSHL, circumstances have prevented them from participating in the Canadian road trip that they had planned involving teams from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and the North American Hockey League. The plan was to play seven games with six teams over nine days in September.

With the WSHL a part of the United Hockey Union, the hockey subsidiary of the Amateur Athletic Union USA, the teams in the SJHL, MJHL, and NAHL were reportedly told not to take part in the road trip as the Blazers were not a part of USA Hockey, or Hockey Canada. Unfortunately, the UHU is not recognized by either organization as an official hockey body, nor by the International Ice Hockey Federation.

The move comes as a big blow to the Blazers and the other teams involved as many things were planned around the road trip. The Estevan Bruins were billing their two-game set against the Blazers as a return of Blazers head coach Tyler Fleck and assistant coach Marco Cefalo. Both played for the Bruins during their junior careers and were members of their championship team in 1998-99. The Bruins had been planning to use these games in a fundraising campaign as well.

A lot of the teams were excited at this prospect, as just having something different take place during the preseason. To have a team from Oklahoma head to Canada to take on these teams was going to be a special event for everyone involved to see a different team and a fresh level of play.

Amid the disappointment comes from the fact that it sounds like neither USA Hockey or Hockey Canada like the prospect of a team from another hockey organization playing one of their teams. While it’s true that the WSHL and NAHL are on the same tier of junior hockey now and can be looked at as rival leagues, it seems odd and silly that the Canadian teams would be told to back out as well.

 

I reached out for comment, and received this from an executive at Hockey Manitoba:

“The Blazers are not a member of USA [Hockey] and therefore not eligible to play against teams in Canada that are members of Hockey Canada. Participation of our members against non-sanctioned teams would result in loss of any insurance coverage and place our member teams in peril.”

“Insurance is only one of the benefits of membership.  We only allow members to participate against teams ‎that are registered with HC, USA or IIHF.”

“The primary reason is they are not sanctioned and if we allow our teams to participate against non sanctioned team it reduces the value of being sanctioned members‎.”

I also reached out for comment from a representative at USA Hockey, but have not heard back.

The Blazers have made attempts to play some of the local NAHL teams in the surrounding area, but all the challenges have been declined.

The biggest detriment in all of this is that unless registered with USA Hockey, the Blazers are not permitted to coach or assist the growth and development of youth hockey teams in OKC. With the talent that has been coming up out of the Oil Kings program here in OKC, this is a missed opportunity to help grow the game.

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.

OKC Blazers “Interested” In Return, Joining ECHL in 2016

Brad Lund, Eric Newendorp, Chris Presson, Winston Ayala, Jay Lakin, Corey MacIntyre, DeBray Ayala at the “Blazers Summit” in Scottsdale. Photo via Brad Lund. 

If you live in Oklahoma City or were a fan of the OKC Blazers you surely remember the name Brad Lund. Lead executive for sixteen seasons and four-time CHL Executive of the Year, Lund was one of many responsible for the 90’s through 00’s success of the Central League Blazers long before the Oklahoma City Thunder came to town, but most certainly long before the Oklahoma City Barons were a possibility.

Lund is now co-owner and operator of Sold Out Strategies, a sports management and marketing agency in downtown Oklahoma City.

Over the weekend Brad Lund posted a series of tweets and photos that sparked a bit of discussion among long-time fans of hockey in OKC, and most certainly perked the attention of Blazers fans around the city.

In those tweets were photos and words that made you nostalgic for just a fraction of a moment. People and statements that hinted a return of the Blazers with some people that were there from the glory days not long ago.

Lund used phrases like “Return of the Blazers THINK TANK” and “Return of the Blazers Summit” and “Blazers possible return“. All things that many in these parts welcome with open arms. But what exactly did Lund mean? We asked him.

“I’m ready to talk about the future, not necessarily the past,” said Lund via telephone on Tuesday afternoon. “Historically the Oklahoma City Blazers did well. When the Hornets came to town (after Hurricane Katrina) it hit us, and it hit us hard. So, yes, we started giving away tickets, and selling discount tickets. Others have made it sound like we gave away tickets for seventeen years. We didn’t.”

Indeed, as the Blazers were overtaken by the presence of the NBA, the attention turned towards more major league things as the city evolved into a major league contender for a permanent team.

Long story made extremely short, the Oklahoma City Thunder moved from Seattle to the Sooner state. The Oklahoma City Barons began play two years later. The former seemingly pulled attention (and tickets) away from the latter, and the story ends with our beloved AHL Barons burning bright for only five seasons. The 2014-2015 season would be there last.

So Lund, and a group of six others, headed to Scottsdale, Arizona for a makeshift reunion, but more importantly to discuss the potential return of the Oklahoma City Blazers in the wake of the loss of AHL hockey.

“Me and six of my former employees got together in Scottsdale – part pleasure, part business – to talk about the pro’s and con’s of bringing back the Blazers,” explains Lund. “I posted the tweets in fun, but it started taking off. I even got a call from a reporter in Boston. It is amazing what a couple hundred followers, and a few tweets can turn in to.”

Indeed. The Oklahoma City hockey community it small, but it is tight, and news of this nature makes many curious.

Lund continues, “Nine of my former employees went on to be GM’s of sports team’s across the country. In my sixteen years with the Blazers, this is what I’m most proud of. To see the growth of the staff.”

With the assembling of former pieces of a successful staff, Lund and company are boldly attempting to bring Blazers hockey back to Oklahoma City.

Lund quickly gets to the point, “We have a business opportunity in the sports marketplace to put together an ownership for the return of the Blazers for 2016. I would establish the level of interest from perspective ownership groups as average to good. Never great until you have someone sign on the dotted line.” He continues, “We’ve had two existing ECHL franchise owners show interest in the market. There’s a reputable minor league sports broker out there that has a handful of clients interested. I’ve met with local business leaders in town, there’s even one former Blazer living in Canada now interested in owning the team. It’s out there.”

Out there indeed. With a dark period of major league hockey now upon us, the thought of a new owner, forming a new team, and possibly embracing a former market is quite thrilling. But there is still so much work to do.

“Fans have been saying over the last couple of months, ‘I hear you’re bringing back the Blazers,’ and I go ‘Where did you hear that?'” says Lund with a chuckle, “Most assume the pieces are in place when they aren’t. Not yet.”

Those pieces involve money, and lots of it. Lund explains, “This day and age sports is big business whether it’s the minors or the big leagues. It’s not a cheap business to get into. The investment opportunity we are talking about would be around two million dollars which counts the expansion fee, insurance, and general operating cash flow. Two million dollars to me, and a lot of others, is a great sum of money. You don’t just pop up the Blazers name and go. It is big business, you have to plan for the worst.”

And the upgrade from the CHL, which consolidated with the ECHL, brings about an operating budget vastly different than it was in the early 00’s when the Blazers were last playing in downtown Oklahoma City.

“An average ECHL budget is around three million dollars which roughly depends on how you do on the sponsorship,” laments Lund. “Which if we do half of what we did with the Blazers we would need to average a little under 4,000 people under full price for us to have a break-even model.”

That 4,000 number sounds familiar, and in five seasons the Barons of the AHL couldn’t muster those averages. But this approach to team building is different, as Lund and Sold Out Strategies look to separate owner from operator, as the local managers embrace nostalgia while moving forward.

“Some days I wake up and I think ‘Let’s do this’ and other days I wake up and think ‘What are you thinking?'” Lund says honestly. “In 1999 I said something that got me in a lot of trouble, but it is true – Oklahoma City is not a hockey town, it’s a Blazers town. We even had people cancel season tickets because I said that. I’m not trying to be a know-it-all, but I think the last five years have proven that. I do believe this is a Blazers town. You still see people wearing a Blazers shirt. I believe in the market. I believe in the Blazers brand. I believe in the brand more than the sport itself.”

Consider this for a moment. What if hockey is incapable of returning to OKC? What if the market is dying in terms of sticks and pucks? It could, and that is a frightful thing to consider given the legacy of sport in this town.

“I’m fearful that if a franchise isn’t activated in Oklahoma City in the next eighteen months this market could go dark for decades if not forever,” says Lund passionately. “We are working on it. We have no firm timeline in place. Something could happen very fast or it could take a while. The people I sit and talk to about this are extremely intrigued, and really get a kick out of it.”

When asked about the rumors of Northlands, owners of the Dallas and Texas Stars, moving their Idaho ECHL affiliate to OKC Lund says, “I’ve met with two existing ECHL franchise people, neither was affiliated with the Dallas Stars. I was not aware of those rumors, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.”

Lund has discussed this matter both with the city and SMG (managing entity of the Cox Convention Center) with whom he gets weekly updates on the matter.

The timeline is not fully realized right now, but the announcement will come late summer early fall, but with a deadline of January 2016 or else, as Lund explains, “You can kiss the 2016 season start goodbye because you don’t want to rush a business like this.”

For some this news is a change of pace. For others it is a celebration. Regardless, knowing that Oklahoma City is a desired market for someone helps ease the pain of recently losing a team. I say…fingers crossed.

(Thanks to Brad Lund for quickly returning my phone call, and for the interview. Thanks also to Eric Rodgers and Patricia Teter for their contribution to this story as well. We make a great team!)