TULSA, OK—Fresh off a Sunday afternoon road loss to the Texas Brahmas, a team they beat in dramatic fashion at home on Friday, the Tulsa Oilers returned home to the amazing BOK Center to face their closest competitor for the top spot in the CHL North Conference, the Colorado Eagles. Always a perennial first place team and former two-time CHLchampions, the Eagles came to Tulsa with the hopes of knocking the upstart Oilers off the top of the CHL mountain.
Tonight the scenario plays out thusly: the Oilers sit at 12-4-1 with 25 points. Colorado stands at 11-3-1 with 23. New math notwithstanding the Oilers can do one of three things…win and surge ahead to 27 points to the Eagles 23; win in overtime or a shootout and move to a three point lead over the Birds; lose in OT/SOL and only be a point ahead and finally losing outright moves the Oilers into a dead heat with the Eagles. In short, a lot is at stake tonight. Absent from the lineup is Oilers scoring ace Rob Hisey who was injured in Sundays game at Texas.
The key to the game tonight would be special teams, something the Oilers have excelled at as they came into tonight’s game sporting and impressive near-85%, 7th-in the league penalty kill percentage and a near 20%, 3rd in the league power play. Tulsa’s prowess with the extra skater was evident early on with the Eagles Jason Lundmark in the box big man Rick Kozak took a neat pass from behind the Eagles goal and buried the puck behind Colorado goalie Andrew Penner at 5:31. The Eagles would respond quickly with a power play marker of their own, Brett Lutes tipping a slap shot from Aaron Schneekloth past Oilers goalie Kevin Armstrong at 9:13. The puck had barely been dropped when the Oilers Aaron Davis too k a lead pass from Derek Merlini and slipped it past Penner and Tulsa went up 2-1.
Just seconds after another penalty to Tulsa had expired, at 16:12 Kevin Ulanski found a seam and slipped the disc past Armstrong to tie the game once again. Add another powerplay goal from Ryan McLeod from Ed McGrane and Jim Jackson and the frame would end 5-3.
The 2nd period would start with Tulsa on the penalty kill yet again, however Derek Merlini would take a pass from Troy Riddle and push it into the Eagles net at 3:06. At 5:25 the Eagles would take the lead 4-3 on an even strength unassisted mark by Ryan Tobler. Add a goal by Jim Jackson…his first of the season at 13:55 and the second of the night from Tobler with just over two minutes remaining would end the middle frame with Colorado leading 6-3.
The Oilers were victimized by the Eagles superior puck movement in close and their seeming inability to stay out of the penalty box. In any case, by the end of the 2nd period Tulsa goalie Kevin Armstrong had faced 23 shots and stopped only 18, so coach Bruce Ramsay elected to send Marty Magers in relief. Mike Beausoleil scored first in the 3rd at 2:11, assisted by Marty Standish and Sean Erickson, followed by a goal by the Eagles Riley Nelson at 8:14, assisted by Ryan Tobler. It would remain 7-5 for the balance of the period until Dan Riedel would pull the fighting Tulsa squad to within a goal at 12:34 assisted by Erickson and Aaron Davis.
The Oilers would opt to pull Marty Magers for the final minute trailing by the lone goal and the 6 skaters on the ice would put up a valiant effort, but there wasn’t enough time left. As the Oilers would suffer their first regulation loss in the BOK Center this season, the team did exhibit a lot of fighting spirit in the final period to pull the game to within one. Now the teams are tied at the top of the North division of the CHL at 256 points each, and the teams now go on the road for the coming weekend. The Oilers willtravel to South Dakota to face the Rapid City Rush for a two game set while the Eagles travel to Southhaven to face the Mississippi Riverkings.
The next Oilers home game will be against the Texas Brahmas at 7:30 in the BOK Center on December 12. Tickets for that game and all Oilers home games are available online at tulsaoilers.com, the BOK Center Box Office and all Reasors locations.
Photos: Kevin Pyle
GAME LENGTH: 2:25
REFEREE: Tom Steinel
1ST STAR: Tobler, Ryan (COL)
2ND STAR: Merlini, Derek (TUL)
3RD STAR: Jackson, Jim (COL)