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.

One of the very first things I noticed at camp was the pace of the players was much higher. Shots seemed harder, players were skating by faster, and the mood was electric. One of the Blazers top-three forwards in Points Per Game last season, Ivan Bondarenko noted that the skill level was so high in camp, he felt he needed to work much harder to keep up.

In net, the Blazers lost both of their goaltenders due to age and have a new group in camp. Goalie Drennen Atherton joins the Blazers from the Eastern Hockey League, and noted the level of play was much higher as well, compared to what he saw last season.

With returning players like Bondarenko, Tomas Rubes, Jared Guffey, and a familiar face from the Blazers inaugural season in forward Victor Ekk, shows that Oklahoma City is a prime destination to play hockey, and brings along a skill level to compete with the top teams in the league and the nation. A lot of credit needs to be given to Coach Fleck and the rest of the staff in working to bring in a group that can maintain and even exceed the level of play that we’ve come to know from the Blazers these past two seasons.

As training camp winds down, the Blazers will have a few weeks to prepare for their season opener on October 14th in Wichita against the Jr. Thunder. As players begin getting in to game shape and learning the systems, the level of play this season will be sight to see.

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.

The city of Evansville on the other hand, was not planning to be without hockey for a season. Things were quickly put into place to welcome a Southern Professional Hockey League team into the city to take the place of the IceMen. From the time that the IceMen announced their move on January 19th, the city only took a couple of weeks before they announced that they would be home to a SPHL expansion team on February 8th. Just two weeks ago on March 22nd, the team announced their head coach next season in former Texas Stars and former IceMen head coach Jeff Pyle.

As is the case with all new teams, hockey fans always have an interest in what the organizations decide to name their teams and what the brand identity in the form of a logo will be. As I was going through the US Trademark database today, I found a new listing for an Evansville Thunderbolts trademark. On March 30th, the trademark was filed by VW Sports of Evansville, LLC with goods and services listed as entertainment purposes in the nature of professional ice hockey exhibitions. There’s a reason I put the emphasis on professional in that last sentence, as there is already a NA3HL team that holds the name Thunderbolts. This begs the question, could the SPHL team share the Thunderbolts name with the current NA3HL team? It’s seen in many places where junior teams take the name of a local professional franchise and add a “Jr.” to the name. What’s to say the opposite couldn’t happen? With the NA3HL as a Tier-III junior league, a couple of steps down from the USHL, the categories for goods and services most likely don’t specify between professional and junior hockey, but there’s a little more that brings the possibility about.

The LLC that filed the trademark, VW Sports of Evansville, was only created back on February 11th – a couple of days after the city announced they would be receiving the expansion team. And while the LLC is listed on the trademark, a quick search of the NA3HL Thunderbolts website shows that the team is owned by Total Package Hockey, an entity that puts together multiple prospect camps and programs throughout the year, of which TPH has many events listed under the Thunderbolts.

With the team’s own official Twitter listing Thunderbolts as an option for their “Name the Team” contest, I’d say that we have a pretty good chance in seeing the Thunderbolts joining the SPHL next season.

Why You Need Canada In The Postseason

I like Canada.

There is no denying that there are places around the globe that are beautiful. From the peaks of the Swiss Alps to the sandy beaches of Brazil to the great religious monuments of Northern Cambodia, both divine created and man-made, we live in a beautiful world. Yet some of my favorite places on the planet fall within the borders of Canada. Inspiring in its existence and spatially enormous, it is a frontier that is vastly untouched. Kelowna has those unique beaches. Banff has its majesty. Jasper has its ruggedness. For the traveling I’ve done, in Western Canada in particular, there are few places I would rather sojourn. And from what I have seen and heard, the central and eastern provinces are equally as spectacular even if they are comparatively different. In short, Canada is a fabulous country to visit. Please do so.

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Maybe, Just Maybe, The Edmonton Oilers Believe In Their Farm

I consider myself an optimist. I champion the down-trodden to a fault. I have often found light in the dark (cell phones help with this). I have been known to find the good in nearly every circumstance. I have my grandmother to blame (who passed away this weekend). When watching scary news transpire or when reading disheartening things she was always quick to remind me that there was still good in the world. Although this viewpoint is particularly rare these days, I have grown accustom to applying this to every day life.

Even in the world of hockey I see things like Kris Russell becoming a Dallas Star and find hopefulness (maybe in shot-blocking or better defending beyond the blue line or my desire to see him ride a horse). I think to myself, “Maybe there is a reason Hamhuis remains a Canuck for a while. Yeah, maybe there is a reason.” Through it all the optimistic, good-natured version of my psyche is finely tuned to pluck the “good” from potentially “bad” — even when it comes to hockey.

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Whoever You Are — You Trade The Pick

Have you met Auston Matthews? No, that first name isn’t spelled incorrectly, and no, that’s not a millennial car salesman’s name (none that I know). He’s actually a pretty solid hockey player – US born, US bred – with a good bit of international hockey experience even at the young age of 18.

He grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona where his favorite player was Shane Doan. Yes, Coyotes fans exist, and the team has existed long enough that the impact is fully realized in this 6’2″ multi World Junior Champ.

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The Stamkos Fan Protection

Earlier this week Steve Yzerman made a bold declaration in favor of Steven Stamkos remaining a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. At first glance I assumed this was an old man (he’s only 50) insisting to change toothpaste or hair tonic. And I suppose that is typically how NHL GM’s work — make a bold statement that is as wobbly as a china shop table post bull. But Yzerman is a smart, shrewd manager, and I think he had good intentions here beyond hanging on to one of the most important Bolts in the last ten years.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning dancing the line between playoffs and off season (it’s only February, mind you) the announcement perhaps is a stamp of approval that his squad is really pushing for the playoffs and beyond.

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