Ahh, the movie business. As I write this, I’m sitting behind a curtain that is obstructing my view of the set. For the past week, I’ve been assisting in the construction of a massive set that overtook my place of employment, and now I’m running lights as famous people traipse across the stage and recite their lines. It’s been fun, but I think hockey is preferable to the movie business!
First of all, Welcome back to the Checkers, Mike McKenzie! He was signed to a one-year AHL contract yesterday, and is a great addition to the Charlotte lineup. I expect great things from him this year! Team presser is here.
The 2011-12 Checkers squad is really beginning to shape up. I still believe that we need a veteran defenseman to shore up the blue line, but hopefully that will come in the next weeks. (Two of my favorite candidates, Andre Benoit and Danny Syvret are still available!!!)
I know that the Oklahoma City Barons aren’t in our Midwest division, but since the Checkers play them as many times as our division opponents, I figured a “Get to know…” post would help Charlotte fans know what we’re getting into with this new rival. OKC has a lot of people blogging about the team, so I interviewed more than one to put this together.
Chasing Checkers – What can you tell us about hockey in Oklahoma City?
Eric – Oklahoma has had a hockey presence in some way or another for a big number of years. The first hockey team OKC had was the Warriors, who played in the AHA from 1933 to 1936. That team would later move to Minneapolis before the end of the 1936 season. 1965 would bring the first incarnation of the Blazers in the Central Hockey League, being affiliated with the Boston Bruins through 1972. After a few touch and go years, affiliations with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Minnesota North Stars, and a name change to the Stars, OKC would go without hockey again from 1982 until 1992 when a second incarnation of the Blazers would join the new Central Hockey League. The Blazers would lead the minor leagues in attendance for a number of years before folding in 2009. The AHL franchise was announced in February of 2010, and the name Barons the following May.
The city has been lukewarm about the team. While not only being the minor league team in comparison to the Thunder, there is also Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University football and basketball that the Barons have had to compete with in garnering media attention and fans. While the Barons don’t share a building with the Thunder, the newly named Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Cox Convention Center are right across Reno Ave. from each other. Not only having to share the media, there were a few nights that both teams got to share the city. While they were seldom, it certainly was a challenge in traffic and parking.
CC – Is there anyone Checkers fans should follow in the media or with the team to keep abreast of one of our new rivals?
Candace – Up until recently, our only real media backbone was Ryan Aber, who covered the team for the Daily Oklahoman newspaper. He was reassigned to prep sports for the upcoming season. Right now, it’s really undetermined what the media coverage will look like for this season, with a real fear that there might not be any “mainstream” to speak of. So, I feel it’s essentially been put on the shoulders of “amateurs”…Eric Rodgers especially (@AHLBarons), who is now doing the team’s coverage on Copper & Blue. It’s difficult when the team doesn’t really recognize the efforts that the “unconventional” media (i.e. blogs & Twitter) put forth. Last season, my blog was more of a spot to showcase my photos of the team with a bit (OK, a LOT) of dry humor mixed in, but I might try to take a more serious direction with it this season, seeing as how there may not be much of a media presence outside the team itself. Eric did a great job with what he contributed last season, all on his own hook, and I look forward to seeing what he does this season as well.
CC – How is the relationship between Edmonton and Oklahoma City? Did your distance from Edmonton make call-ups more challenging?
Eric – I think the relationship is great. Edmonton has made a strong push with stocking the Barons with strong veterans while also developing their promising corps of rookies. Oilers GM Steve Tambellini along with other members of the Oilers management team have made many trips to OKC to see the progress of the team, and the OKC management have gotten chances to head to Edmonton to see how things are done up there.
Obviously the distance is a bit of a hindrance. There are no direct flights from OKC to Edmonton, so it’s definitely a trip. There haven’t been any issues as far as canceled flights or anything yet, and hopefully it continues.
CC – The Barons had a strong inaugural season, making it to the Calder Cup Playoffs, but losing in the first round. What do you expect from the team this season? What three players should be on our radar as ones to watch?
Eric – It’s a bit tough to take a guess on what to expect from the team this season. I can’t think of another team that has as much turnover from the previous season, that didn’t involve an affiliation change. With the exception of Andrew Lord, who’s on an AHL contract, none of our UFAs from last season are returning. With some added toughness, it’ll be interesting to see how the scoring goes, after the losses of Alexandre Giroux, Brad Moran, and Colin McDonald.
First player to watch, Mark Arcobello. He signed an AHL only deal with the Barons at the start of last season, was sent to Stockton of the ECHL and would earn a call-up midway through the season as the Edmonton injury woes would begin. Arcobello would score 22 points in 26 games, and earn himself a 2-way contract with the Oilers.
Defenseman Colten Teubert would join the Barons as a result of the Dustin Penner trade with the Kings last season. Tuebert would score in his first game with the Barons and showed that he would be a force to be reckoned with defensively in the future.
Teemu Hartikainen is considered a bit of a bubble player this season. With the addition of Ryan Smyth to the Oilers line-up, it may have pushed him down to the AHL, but he showed in his call-up at the end of last season that he’s a strong winger. Hartikainen is one of the best players along the boards, winning battles, and dealing hits.
Candace – Top three to watch….I’d say Teemu Hartikainen, for one. He had a small taste of the NHL life late last season, and really started turning up the effort at the same time here. Another one I feel has the potential to break out (and I’d like to see do well) is Colten Teubert. He seemed to flourish after the Edmonton/Los Angeles trade that brought him here to OKC, and took much more of an offensive role than he apparently had with Manchester. Player # 3 could be anyone, really. I think there are a handful of guys that we did see last year (Milan Kytnar, Jeff Petry, Taylor Chorney), and some we really didn’t see if at all (Brandon Davidson, Martin Marincin, Tanner House), that could do great things. I can’t really speak to the newcomers that are heading our way, as you’re not really sure who might make an impact in Edmonton’s training camp and end up not showing up here. I’m also not throwing Linus Omark in this bunch to watch, as I know he’s hoping stick with the Oilers out of camp…if he doesn’t, I definitely would include him as one to watch as I think he just might be able to channel the frustration this season and be doubly motivated to make it back to the Oilers if returned to the AHL.
CC – Like Charlotte, Oklahoma City is kind of on their own “island” without many other teams within driving distance. How does this affect the team?
Candace – One thing I’ve noticed, travel seems to be part of life in the AHL’s Western Conference. I think the guys tended to cope well with the travel last season, despite having two LONG road trips, and quite a few 3-in-3 series (11, if I remember correctly, and thankfully that’s out of the equation this season). I think they did have a tendency to wear down at times, when that third game was a road game, but it is what it is, I suppose. I think the travel to Charlotte will end up being a good thing, in the long run. First, it’s a new city to explore, which I think would kind of combat the road boredom. Secondly, it’s a chance to measure up against a team that went far in the playoffs last season. I’m very anxious to see the Checkers come into our building, as well. I love the chance to see a new team.
CC – What can you tell a new Western team about life in the West?
Candace – Life in the West? Hmmm….be patient and learn to love airports, I’m sure (ha ha). The “wild, wild West” euphemism won’t be too far from the truth…there were a good handful of teams that were very tough against us last season, and I’m interested to see how Charlotte does against them, too. The distance to be traveled combined with lovely winter weather in this part of the world gives rise to the chance of things getting interesting at times, too.
As for rivalries, the natural ones for the Barons would be against Texas, Houston, and San Antonio…anything Oklahoma/Texas always has the potential of being rather…heated, let’s say (just relate it to Duke/UNC, in your part of the world). Although the majority of our games were played against those 3 teams last season, I don’t think the Oklahoma/Texas aspect was really played up enough. After Ryan Reaves of Peoria decided to act like a fool in a game here, I really think the OKC/Peoria games took on more of a heated rivalry look. At that point, there was an honest hatred between the teams and it seemed to get interesting from there on out. Other than that, I think last season was kind of a “getting to know you” period for the Barons. This season might have the possibility to see some of those rivalries grow roots and expand.
Eric – As far as rivalries, the biggest one among fans is between OKC and the Texas Stars. That one was built in from the get-go, as the Stars play in a suburb of Austin, which is where the University of Texas is located, bitter rivals of the University of Oklahoma. The team that became the most hated though, was the Peoria Rivermen. After a game which saw Ryan Reaves forgo the unwritten rules of fighting, by continuing to beat on defenseman Jake Taylor as he was on the ice, Reaves and the Rivermen would become the #1 enemy.
CC – What prompted you to start your blog about the Barons?
Eric – That came at the behest of Ray Burnt of OilersJambalaya.com and Scott Ellis of OilFieldHockey.com, who offered me a contributing spot on their sites. I had never really enjoyed writing, but there was something about writing about hockey that made me change my mind on that. With a real lack of media coverage of the Barons, I wanted to do what I could to help fill the void as much as I was able to, being only a blogger. I received a lot of positives along the way from the Oilers community, recently signing on as the Barons contributor on CoppernBlue.com, as the community wants to hear as much as possible about the up and coming prospects, and I stuck with it, and it’s become something that I really enjoy doing.
Candace – My blog was started due to my love of hockey photography. I used to take my dad’s camera to OKC Blazers games as a teenager, and I just kept that going into adulthood; with both the Blazers, and now the Barons. The day the team was announced (Feb. 9, 2010), I knew I wanted to document the inaugural season, especially in a mostly photo medium. I really wanted to have a place to showcase some of those photos, and the desire to share them with anyone who gave enough of a darn to look at them. Consequently, it led to the birth of a blog. Although I essentially intended it as a means to document the first Barons season, I pretty much got hooked, and plan on continuing it for as long as I possibly can. I will warn anyone that looks at it – I have a very dry sense of humor and a mouth that belongs in a locker room. If you can handle that, you might enjoy it. If you like hockey photography, check it out. I’m just a fan girl who works with a decent camera who doesn’t have a press pass…and I seem to do OK. 🙂