There is no shortage of great AHL blogs about the Oklahoma City Barons, so picking people to interview was a tough decision. Thankfully, both Patricia of Artful Puck and Noah at OKCBarons Hockey were willing to answer a few questions for Checkers fans. You can follow Patricia on Twitter at @Artful_Puck and Noah at @vandergulik_n
Chasing Checkers - What can you tell us about hockey in Oklahoma City?
Artful Puck - Hockey has a long history in Oklahoma, going back to 1928 when the Tulsa Oilers were founded. Not long after that, hockey came to Oklahoma City and has been here on and off since 1933. The OKC Barons have only existed since the 2010-11 season when they were the 30th team to be added to the AHL as an affiliate for the Edmonton Oilers NHL team. Prior to that OKC had the CPHL/CHL team OKC Blazers from 1965-1972; 1973-1977; and 1992-2009.
CC – How is it sharing the spotlight with an NBA team in the same city? What about other sports in town?
OKCBarons Hockey - The NBA franchise, the Thunder, gets all the highlights. You look to about a ten minute broadcast of sports on the news. One minute for theBarons, two minutes for high schools and football, and seven minutes talking about the Thunder. It’s really disapointing quite honestly, the city and the news media has not taken good care of our Barons even though they lead the entire Western Conference last season in the AHL.
AP - The NBA Thunder team in Oklahoma City has been tremendously popular. They have been in OKC since 2008 and while the two teams do not share an arena, they are right across the street from each other and it has probably drawn some of the Barons’ audience away on certain nights. However, this season the Barons have been very lucky to arrange a schedule that shares very few dates in common with the Thunder. I think that will help and also alleviate some of the crossover as well as traffic on those games nights where both teams are playing downtown.
Football and basketball are very popular in Oklahoma and while hockey has been around for a long time, the audience is still building for the Barons. I expect this season will be much better. The team’s off-ice staff has really stepped up this coming season and we have seen great strides to bring in new fans.
Local media is slowly beginning to focus on OKC Barons hockey. As the team made it into the playoffs both seasons, local media coverage grew as the season progressed and as the football season dwindled down. Hockey fans always look forward to Ryan Aber’s coverage when he has time to devote to hockey.
CC - Is there anyone Checkers fans should follow in the media or with the team to keep abreast of one of our new rivals?
AP - The OKC Barons team twitter account:
OKC Barons Hockey @OKCBarons
Occasional OKC Barons news at NewsOK.com. Ryan Aber’s (@ryaber) coverage is always nice to see when he has time to spare from High School football.
With the NHL lockout there will be much more Edmonton media following the team as well, such as Jonathan Willis and Bruce McCurdy with the Edmonton Journal.
Noah Noah Van der Gulik’s OKCBarons Hockey
Linda Donnelly’s Oklahoma Hockey
CC - How is the relationship between Edmonton and Oklahoma City?
AP – The relationship between Edmonton and OKC is excellent. The Oilers hired Bill Scott as General Manager of the team here in OKC and there are very close connections and oversight. While the distance between the two is relatively long, we have never felt that we are out of sight-out of mind, and it helps the Barons considerably to have their own GM on the ground here in OKC.
OKCBH - The call-ups to Edmonton do get challenging. As most know, it is a long distance. 1788.8 miles of nothing but air. There was an incident in the season where Magnus Paajarvi was called up, but could not play. Edmonton called up Paajarvi due to an injured player, but the National Hockey League denied their request to play the called up a player because they used their 3 emergency callups, or something to pertain to that. Both, Edmonton and Oklahoma City had games that night. Both, Edmonton and Oklahoma City could have really used him. Paajarvi, ready to play once again at NHL level was denied because they did not realize the rule that they could not play him and he would be sent back to Oklahoma City.
AP – As for call ups, it can range from 5 to 9 hours depending upon the flights and connections, but since both teams are in the west, call-ups have also met up with the team on the road which has worked out well.
CC - What is this year’s Barons team going to look like?
AP - It should prove to be a terrifically exciting season for the OKC Barons fans. We have many returning
players this season – almost all of our forwards and a small group of defensemen, along with our AHL
goaltender of the year, Yann Danis. As for new players, we have a good number of Edmonton Oilers
prospects joining the team this coming season who will be fun to watch.
Brandon Davidson and Martin Marincin, two defensemen with great talent, will be joining the team, along with Tayler Fedun, who wasinjured in the Oilers preseason game last season. It is fantastic to get him back on the ice once again.
OKCBH -The Barons will look very similar to last year. Still, a very strong, scary team. In fact, the only player that Edmonton signed for Oklahoma City in the off-season, was scrappy forward, Dane Byers who will fit on the 2nd or 3rd line.
So much young, raw talent coming up for fans. You look to Magnus Paajarvi, 21, Teemu Hartikainen, 22, Philippe Cornet, 22, Tyler Pitlick, 21, Anton Lander, 21, Curtis Hamilton, 21. A lot of other rookies coming up too. Kristians Pelss, Teigan Zahn, David Musil, Ryan Martindale, and Cam Abney.
I could see the attendance would rise to about 7,000 at least. A lockout, horrible for the NHL, may not be as bad for the AHL, certainly not for Oklahoma City.
CC – Who are a few players to watch this season?
OKCBH - As far as goaltending goes, Yann Danis will get the tilt back in net. When he was resigned, I’m sure the rest of the Western Conference trembled with fear as they will have to face the red hot goalie for another season. Not trying to throw anything off course here, but just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if he was named Bastien Memorial Award top AHL goalie of the year in back-to-back seasons. Olivier Roy will get the chance at back up. Roy, not related to the great Patrick Roy, but is certainly a great upcoming goaltender. He was selected by Edmonton in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft 133rd overall. Last season, he spent time with the ECHL Stockton Thunder, the ECHL team which is an affiliate to Oklahoma City.
AP - Players to keep an eye on this season will naturally include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (the no. 1 overall 2011
NHL draft pick), Jordan Eberle (no. 22 overall 2008 NHL draft pick) and Justin Schultz (a highly ranked
defenseman) who will be joining the team from the Edmonton Oilers due to the lockout. Along with that
group, we have a large number of returning players this season, and some of those to keep an eye on
are: Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Philippe Cornet, Tyler Pitlick, Antti Tyrvainen,
etc. Roster possibilities for the coming season can be seen on my blog – this is a list of players from the
Oilers and Barons as of Sept. 23.
CC - What can you tell a new South Division team about life in the newly named division?
AP - There is a long-standing Red River rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma in college football and that rivalry naturally flows over into hockey to some extent. We face three Texas teams – the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars), the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) and the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild). In
last season’s playoffs, the Barons eliminated the Houston Aeros and the San Antonio Rampage during the first two rounds of the Western Conference and we expect tough battles against all of the Texas teams this coming season.
Travel can be a bit of a hike if we are heading up to Abbotsford or Toronto, but in general it isn’t too bad for our team within our own South division. From OKC it is about a six hour drive down to Cedar Park (Texas Stars) and just under two more hours to San Antonio (Rampage). From San Antonio to Houston (Aeros) is about three hours, and Houston back to OKC is around seven hours. Last year a number of OKC fans made the Texas game road trips and we fully expect to do it again this year. In this region, we are used to the long drives to get from one spot to the next. It is merely a western way of life.
Charlotte on the other hand is about a four to five hour flight or a 17 hour drive and hopefully a few of us will make it to some of the games in Charlotte at some point!
Last season was the first time we faced the Checkers and that was very exciting to those of us in the Western Conference. The two teams offer different styles of hockey and it is always fun to see the two face one another.
OKCBH - Travel may be hard for Charlotte. I mean, this division now consists of three Texas teams, one team just north of the three, and now one thats close to the Atlantic Ocean. This is a very rough division. These are five hungry, hard-hitting, fast paced actioned teams here. Well not to insult the Stars or anything, but they don’t look so hot like last year. I imagine any game that consists of Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Texas, San Antonio, or Houston will be low scoring games. So much talent for all five of them.
Just for recommendation, going to away games at Texas are always fun. They have a nicely built arena there, good fans, and a great atmosphere to watch hockey games just outside of Austin. As you might imagine, yes, the Texas Stars are our biggest rival. I like to call it the “I-35 rivalry”. I think because the whole Texas versus Oklahoma tug-of-war was already in place due to football, it might as well pertain to hockey too.
CC – What prompted you to follow the team as you do, and write about the Barons?
AP - I relocated to Oklahoma at the end of the 2010-11 season from the east coast and started following the team at the end of that season and playoffs. Prior to that, I had been an NHL fan, primarily the Washington Capitals and Eastern conference teams since I had lived on the east coast for a number of years on and off. The OKC Barons were the first AHL hockey I had ever watched and it came as a surprise to me that it was such high level, fast paced hockey. I quickly became a season ticket holder and began writing about the team during the summer of 2011. With the NHL lockout, AHL hockey and all minor league and lower levels of hockey will fill a much needed void. I highly encourage all hockey fans to seek out their local hockey teams! Enjoy it, revel in it! It is cheaper and much more accessible.
OKCBH - I have lived in Oklahoma City all my life. I stand out around my friends and such, but I love it. And what better team to follow than the Barons? I love following the team. It’s always great fun to keep up with the players, the games, and talk with fellow fans before the games. Being a writer was never my dream or anything like that, but I found my niche and that’s writing for the team. It gets tiring at times, but it’s what I love to do in my off-time.