Sports: Slap Shot

Written by Nathan Winfrey in the November 2010 Issue

“What are we going to do tonight?” Edmond families now have a new answer to this age-old question. The arrival of the Oklahoma City Barons has brought hockey back to the Metro.

Mere weeks into the minor professional ice hockey team’s inaugural season, the Barons are gathering fans like an out-of-control snowball because Hockey fans remember the Blazers, a Central Hockey League franchise that thrilled Oklahomans from 1992-2009. “The Blazers had a great following here,” says Edmond resident and Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson.

The Barons are here to up the ante. “They shoot harder, they skate faster, and they hit harder than maybe [audiences] have seen in the past,” Coach Nelson says. “It’s a higher brand of hockey than people are used to here. These players are one step way from the NHL.”

“When the puck is down, there is constant action,” says Josh Evans, UCO graduate and director of communications for the Barons. “From a hockey perspective, the pace of play is much faster, the athletes are much better, and there are fewer stoppages of play.”

Games last only 2-and-a-half hours, but there’s hardly a moment to slip away to the concession stand during the action. “It’s a faster brand of hockey. I think, from a fan’s perspective, it’s pretty exciting,” Nelson says.
The team is comprised mainly of Canadians, with the rest of the players from the Czech Republic, Finland and the United States. Nelson credits a high degree of professionalism among the players. They have no need for summer jobs, so instead of flipping burgers in the off-season, they’re working with personal trainers to hone their bodies and their abilities. “It’s a year-round job,” he says.

“A hockey-player is a different kind of athlete,” says Nelson. Fights in front of thousands of people are a constant possibility and, with that, a player’s manhood can be challenged at any moment, he says. “It’s a very humbling game, but it is a very exciting game.”

The impressive turnout for the Oct. 9 season-opener against the Houston Aeros showed Oklahomans’ hunger for something new and, as Evans describes it, many were there to “kick the tires” to see what the new franchise is all about. “We want to help add to the culture and landscape of the OKC Metro area,” said Evans.

“Opening night was outstanding. Our crowd was 9,800, which is very good, and we are looking forward to building upon that.”

The Barons are the American Hockey League affiliate for the Edmonton Oilers, a National Hockey League team. Versions of the team with different names have existed in Nova Scotia, Edmonton and Springfield, Massachusetts. “Oklahoma City is a lot like Edmonton,” Evans says. “The two cities feel similar, except when it’s 40 below [in Edmonton], then it doesn’t feel similar.”

Nelson moved to Edmond from Atlanta, where he was an assistant coach for the Thrashers, an NHL team. He says Edmond reminds him of where he grew up — Prince Albert in Saskatchewan, Canada. “It’s a smaller town,” he says, “and that’s what we like about it.”

Nelson says people are very friendly around Oklahoma City and especially in Edmond. “They have a great school system, and that’s why we decided to move out to Edmond,” he said. His son attends Edmond North High School and his daughter attends Cheyenne Middle School.

The Barons’ home ice is the Cox Convention Center. You can see the blue-and-copper warriors and their mountain lion mascot, Derrick, on game nights from now until spring. “It’s an opportunity to be entertained by a unique, fast-paced sport that’s also affordable,” Evans says.

The Barons enjoyed their first home win in mid-October, despite what most people would have accepted as a certain loss. “Any time you’re down 3-0, the game is pretty much over,” Nelson said. But the Barons defied the statistics by scoring four points in a row, tying the game with 1:20 left and pushing through to a dramatic victory.

The energy on the ice and in the stands that Saturday night was palpable and Barons fans were rewarded with an unforgettable turnaround. “The guys worked hard and we ended up coming back and winning the game.”

Season tickets range from $470 to $1,040 and single game ticket can cost $14 - $36, depending on which seats you buy. Group packages, six-pack tickets, and birthday tickets are sold at special rates. For more information, visit www.okcbarons.com

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