The big difference this season is that when the final horn sounded the team would not be de-camping, and the sticks scattered to the Oklahoma wind. Regardless of the outcome of the game, the Tulsa Oilers would be playoff bound for the first time in three seasons.
The final opponent in the regular season for the Oilers was Denver, the team Tulsa began with six months ago. The game was meaningless to the Cutthroats but it had meaning for the Oilers, as the outcome of the game would decide what place they would finish in and what team they would face. A win would place Tulsa in sixth place and facing the Allen Americans, while a loss, either whole or in overtime or by the shootout would result in the Oilers landing in seventh place and the final game of the regular season was, in essence a playoff preview.
The game was expected to be less than a bell-ringer despite its importance to the home team, and it really wasn’t. The Oilers were four men short on Sunday due to the healthy scratching of goaltender Shane Madolora, and their leading scorers Ryan Menei, Todd Robinson, and Ben Gordon. The obvious move to save Tulsa’s best players was a statement by head coach Bruce Ramsay that he had confidence it his blue collar players, but it really didn’t do much good when it came to the scoreboard.
After the two teams battled to a scoreless tie at the end of the first twenty minutes, Steve Kaunisto unloaded a shot from the left circle that zipped into the net behind Oilers goalie Brad Fogal to give the visitors a 1-0 lead with a shade over a minute remaining in the second period, and AJ Gale stuffed the puck behind Fogal seven-and-a-half minutes into the third to give Denver what would be its game winning goal.
At the horn, the Oilers regular season was over. Finishing in seventh place, at 34-29-3 overall with 71 points, they would be the playoff’s seventh seed and they would face the team who had beaten them in the first round. There was little argument that the season that was dubbed “Reload” was a success, with Tulsa improving their record by 12 wins and their point total by twenty. The 2014 playoff run would be the second in the five year Bruce Ramsay era, the other being the 2011 CHL playoffs, which saw Tulsa ascend into the second round for the first time since 1994, and the first time since 2005.
Despite all the generally positive regular season reviews many Oilers fans expressed some trepidation in the first round opponent being a team Tulsa had defeated only once in the regular season, but by and large, the attitude that all records revert to zero once the regular season ended was prevailing.
Thanks to an event scheduled in the Denver Coliseum next weekend, when the playoffs are set to begin, the Oilers will host the series’ first two games at home despite not having home ice advantage in the first round. The Oilers will host the first two games in the BOK Center, then travel to the Mile High City for games three, four and five. Back to the BOK Center for game six, if needed and then back to Denver for the possible game seven.
Game one of the 2014 Central Hockey League playoffs is set for this Friday night in the BOK Center. Tickets are on sale now at the BOK Center box office and further information can be found at tulsaoilers.com or by calling 918-632-PUCK918-632-PUCK (7825).