OKC Barons 2014-15 Estimated Time-On-Ice

With advanced stats a rare find in the minor leagues of American pro hockey, I’ve been working to add what I can to that realm. One of the most interesting stats is Time-On-Ice, in an effort to better see how many prospects are being used during their time in the American Hockey League. The Oklahoma City Barons saw quite a few promising prospects in their five years of playing before moving to Bakersfield, California, and it’s always fun to see how and where a lot of these guys were played.

A lot of the work on estimating TOI was started by Iain Fyffe and I’m happy to continue it. There’s a lot of great insight into the Barons 2014-15 on-ice stats from Lowetide, so be sure to check that out as well. Here, I’ll provide the actual Estimated TOI numbers for the Barons from last season.

One of the tough things about estimating TOI is that a large sample size is usually needed in order to get a number that makes a lot of sense. For this list, I took out some of the players that only played a handful of games and were never on the ice for a goal. In the case of players like Platzer and LaLeggia, even though they were only with the team for a few regular season games, they still had instances of numbers that made a bit of sense.

Leading the way for the centers is Anton Lander, who graduated midway through the season to the NHL. Veteran Jason Williams was consistently on the first line for the Barons last season, and he took up a lot of minutes on the PP as well. Bogdan Yakimov’s average number for the season comes out at around the 15 minute mark, but as I’ve mentioned on Twitter, his ice-time doubled once Lander was called up to the Oilers full-time. Guys like Connor Jones, Jujhar Khaira, and Travis Ewanyk were shuffled among the third and fourth lines all season.

On the left wing, Ryan and Curtis Hamilton took on most of the minutes, and then there’s a large drop to Kale Kessy, who was injured in the first half of the season and missed out on the second half. Kellen Jones and Josh Winquist made the most of their time on the ice throughout the season and look to have promising careers ahead of them.

Andrew Miller made a big splash with the Barons and earned himself some time with Edmonton last season. Matthew Ford was an all-around multi-purpose player for OKC last season, playing on the PP and PK as well. Pitlick and Pakarinen had pretty successful seasons with OKC, before being injured while with Edmonton.

Brad Hunt led the blue liners for most of the season, and ATO Joey LaLeggia got a big push while he was with the team at the end of the season. Oscar Klefbom probably shouldn’t have ever been with OKC last season. Brandon Davidson had a high-minutes role as well, and will probably have the same next season. The rest of the defense will all look to battle it out in training camp this season as they try to climb the depth chart.

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!) 

 

Edmonton Oilers Say “Thank You” To OKC In Full Page Ad

The Oklahoma City Barons season ended at the hands of the Utica Comets just a few days ago. Since then it has been difficult to say goodbye to a franchise we have loved for five years, but we have done it, and we continue to be grateful.

Likewise the Edmonton Oilers have said “Thank You” to the team, the fans, the community, and owners that have given us one heckuva a run in their own way.

Via a full page ad (seen below), the Edmonton Oilers have said their thank you’s and their goodbye’s. The ad reads:

“To the great people and fans in Oklahoma City thank you for your dedication to the Barons the past 5 years. Your hospitality and support made our players and staff feel at home and a welcome part of the community.

To Bob Funk Jr. and our partners at Prodigal, we thank you for your commitment, hard work and professionalism in operating the Oklahoma City Barons and putting on a great show every night for the team, fans and community. We couldn’t have asked for better partners in this venture.

Oklahoma City will always have a special place in our heart!

Thank you!

Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club”

The unnecessary gesture here was classy nonetheless. As a fan, I’m appreciative of the statement. And to the Edmonton Oilers we thank YOU for the opportunity.

Dallas Considering OKC: ECHL Rumors Continue

The season isn’t even cold yet for the Oklahoma City Barons, and the rumors of hockey returning to the city are beginning to heat up. With the AHL lumbering its way out of Oklahoma’s capital city, it seems logical for fans to turn their ears towards the earth for signs of future hockey life. The rumblings exist, and you might like what you hear.

Through multiple channels, all within Oklahoma City, it appears that the Dallas Stars are considering a move of their ECHL affiliate to the Sooner state. Currently Dallas has an agreement, which has been renewed nine straight seasons, with the highly successful Idaho Steelheads. History tells us that this agreement typically is renewed in one or two year terms, but comes towards the tail end of summer.

With the Texas Stars in Austin, the regional shift to I-35 for ECHL makes a lot of sense. As evidenced by a sizable crowd for the Stars vs. Oilers NHL Showcase not long ago, there are a bulk of Dallas Stars fans living three hours up the interstate (of which I’m one). Nearly all NHL Stars games are broadcast locally via Fox Sports Southwest, and thus the fan base has had these games delivered to their living rooms for years. The “regional” move is something the Stars organization is wanting to uphold as the AHL footprint boldly moves West. More on that potential grand statement in the coming weeks.

The hole in next year’s ECHL Central Division (Allen, Wichita, Missouri, Tulsa) nearly guarantees that another team will be added by 16-17. All signs point to that destination being Oklahoma City where they historically have had intense rivalries with Wichita and Tulsa during the CHL days.

Tend The Farm has a strict no rumors policy, but we have made an exception here as multiple people “behind the scenes” have inferred that the city is open to new suitors.

We wait for official word – likely not soon – from on high about the potential for a new hockey endeavor to land firmly in Oklahoma City. Until then, summer beckons us.

The Sweater

I have an Oklahoma City Barons sweater.

That sweater is dark navy with copper, white, and red stripes on the sleeve. It has a tight v-neck design that is tailored perfectly for a head, two ears, two eyes, and a mess of hair to squeeze through. The back is stitched with breathable fabric that is perfect for early October heat and late May playoff pushes. The front features a nearly 24″ logo, the traditional Barons mark. The left shoulder has an OKC Barons oil drop, the right the iconic Edmonton Oilers logo. The sleeves are the perfect length, hitting me on the wrist as the radius and ulna meet, but not too far past where the carpals begin. It is comfortable, well worn, easy to clean, and perhaps my favorite article of clothing.

That sweater is torn near the forearm not because it was worn by a warrior grappling with another on the ice. No, that tear came as I was celebrating a Linus Omark game-winner, and the sleeve caught the edge of the armrest in section 202 years ago. There is a stain around the bottom edge where a pre-game Kool-Aid accident nearly ruined my day. The bright red faded to dark brown by the time the puck dropped. It smells like Dreft most of the time, but on some Fridays and Saturdays it becomes a saturated mess. It hugs my body perfectly, and it makes wearing a belt optional. It has been worn with blue jeans, casual dress slacks, shorts, and even a bathing suit one time. I once wore it for 24 hours straight.

That sweater reminds me of moments in time. It was worn the week my second child, a son, was born. I wore it when my father-in-law was being treated for prostate cancer. I wore it to Halloween parties to family get-togethers to places outside of the Oklahoma City limits. At least a half-dozen times I wore it to church. It became a part of my trips to the rink. It encouraged my daughter to get one of her own. I wore it when I was sad. I wore it when I was happy. I wore it when I was angry. I wore it when I was disappointed. I wore it – always – with pride.

That sweater reminds me of people. When I saw someone wearing one of their own I gave a quick “Hi!” or even a wave or nod like motorcyclists do on the highway. As if some unwritten code had been magically woven into the fabric, the person would always return the greeting with a version of their own. The sweater was there when the Cox Center flooded, and people were huddled (team included) in the bowels of the arena. It was there when Teemu Hartikainen injured his shoulder. It was there when the day game was nearly cancelled due to wintry weather. It was there when the Texas Stars beat them into submission. It was there when the Barons returned the favor. It was there when pucks-were-chucked, when kisses were made on cameras, when sumo wrestlers tackled, and humans were bowled. It was there when Shawn Belle was named the first recall in Barons history. It was there when Nelson coached his final game. It survived dollar beer nights (I’ve been told). It was worn by many, despised by some, honored by others, and reviled by few. They were seen in Peoria, San Antonio, Rochester, Houston, Utica, Edmonton, Calgary, and a host of other cities. It was worn by the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated. It was bought for boys, girls, men, women, dogs, cats, and other forms of life that needed more hockey in their lives. Whether it was seen on a season ticket holder, a flex plan buyer, a professional, a law man, a contractor, a pastor or a dancer it was always donned with gratitude, never regret.

That sweater reminds me of things it will never see. The Calder Cup Finals, and a crowd consistently large at the Cox Center.

That sweater reminds me of stories. Stories of people who first discovered hockey. About how they fell in love at a hockey game, and are getting married. How it gave them an escape from the “real world”. How it helped heal hurt, and soften the world that is so hard.

That sweater reminds me of hockey players. 155 players to be exact. From Camberon Abney to Teigan Zahn, Kiril Tulupov to Jordan Bendfeld – they all meant something. They were old, young, new, veteran, good, sketchy, fun, dangerous, easy to love, impossible to tolerate, strong, weak, sturdy, injury-riddled, but always cognizant of what that sweater truly meant. They earned the right to wear it, to play in it, to put apart of it through years of hard work.

That sweater tell me that there is more to come. The community that was built around that sweater is strong. It has withstood the test of time, and the disappearance of a hockey team before. It will remain strong through a common bond of hockey love. It might grow faint, but it will never go away. Truthfully it might grow in numbers, as crazy as that sounds.

That sweater will always exist.

That sweater will always be important.

That sweater will always mean something greater than just one person or player.

I love my Oklahoma City Barons sweater. Chances are, you do too.

Utica Wins Game Seven, An Era Ends

Photo via Utica Comets. All rights reserved.

Game sevens are terrific things. Game sevens in the hockey world are even more terrific things. They are tight, sound, atypical protective hockey that somehow becomes wildly entertaining despite often being low scoring. We can’t help ourselves. As human beings we like dramatic theater. Every turn, twist, shot, hit, change, and rush is dissected under a microscope in the blink of an eye. Hanging on every play. Watching with anticipation. Listen for the brightly sound of the whistle. Wondering how it will end. Man, don’t you wish you could bottle that up, store it high on shelf, and pull it out when you needed too?

Game seven of the Western Conference semifinals of the Calder Cup postseason was exactly this.

It would take one goal to seal the deal, and it belonged to Utica and the clutch Alexandre Grenier. After seven games the Utica Comets would emerge victorious, winning four games to three, and punching their ticket to the Western Conference Finals to face the offensively potent Grand Rapids Griffins.

As the series had been taken over by goaltenders, both Jacob Markstrom and Richard Bachman would be the scene stealers once again in the finale. For Bachman and the Barons, his performance was stout from the get-go. Stopping 26 shots across the first forty minutes of play gave us some terrifically scary moments. Yet Richard persevered, and really was the reason this game wasn’t 2-0 after the first two periods of play.

By comparison, Jacob Markstrom stopped 27 shots in the span of the first two periods. Yet his game would surge late as the Barons would become ultimately desperate to score.

The lone Alexandre Grenier goal came at the 7:11 mark of the third period long after each team had moments on the power play (three for OKC, two for Utica) that featured good scoring chances, but better goaltending, and careful blue line protection. The goal felt insurmountable as Bachman seemed human again. The Barons would pressure the puck for the remainder of the game, peppering Markstrom with thirteen third period shots. But somehow the Comets clogged the center of the ice, yet again, and shots were coming at a further distance with very few rebounds.

The Utica Comets would boldly emerge the victor. As two evenly matched teams lined themselves up to shake hands, the realization that the Barons season was over began to invade my senses. For the season was not just over, but so was the team.

We have known about the end of the Barons era in Oklahoma City for many months at this point, but I wasn’t ready for the emotional gut punch I felt when that final horn resounded. Dadgumit, when did I get soft?

The radio broadcast sign-off was professional, but emotional as Jim Byers said his farewell to fans, broadcast partners, and a squad he was so intimately tangled within. Even the normally stoic John Zondlo who produces the Barons radio show back in OKC turned to Dr. Seuss’ “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” quote while pushing back emotion.

This is a tough time for Oklahoma City hockey fans, and we know we aren’t the only team on the planet that has ever lost a club they loved. But boy it hits you in the feelers more than you think, and probably more than it should.

As we head towards the AHL offseason we will no doubt pay tribute to the fans and teams that we have loved throughout the years. And as we march closer to the summer months this blog will begin to take on a new shape, a new scope, a new presence that isn’t quite fully realized even at this point. You, the loyal reader, will be the first to know what that might be. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, congrats to the Barons on an incredible season. What a way to go out!