TULSA, OK—It’s a rare thing for the Tulsa Oilers to play two hockey games in the middle of the week, so for this article the reader gets two (2) recaps for the price of one. This week and next week the Oilers will play four games spanning the gap between Wednesday and Friday, and for three of those games they will play teams that have never played in Oklahoma before.
First up this week on Wednesday, Tulsa took on a familiar opponent, the Rapid City Rush. The Oilers have squared off against Rapid City since 2008 when they were members of the old Central Hockey League. They have met 43 times since then and they were former divisional opponents last year’s merger season when the CHL married the ECHL.
Divisional realignment pushed the Rush to the west, so the game on Wednesday night was the first of three meetings between Tulsa and Rapid City this season.
The Rush hold the second place position in the ECHL West division with a record of 10-6-1-1 with the tenth win being a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on Wednesday night.
The Oilers struck first when Christophe Lalancette blasted a slap shot past Rapid City goaltender Marek Langhamer to give the Oilers the early lead. Tulsa held that lead until the first period’s 18th minute when Kale Kerbashian evened the score for the visitor, tucking the puck in behind Kevin Carr and the period ended with the score tied at 1.
Carr, who was in his fifth straight start since Jussi Olkinoura was called up to Manitoba in mid-November managed to turn aside Rush shots in the second period to allow Tulsa to hold the tie throughout, but in the third period it all fell apart for the Oilers starting when Phil Brewer took what head coach Jason Christie termed as a “bad penalty” for hooking at 12:55. Rapid City’s Taylor Doherty converted the power play and gave the Rush a lead they would not relinquish.
Two empty net goals added insult to injury as the game died away, and a drop in the bucket goal by the Oilers Brandon Wong managed to soften the blow but still, the home team lost their second straight to a team that was good, but not really that much better than Tulsa in the grand scheme of things.
On Thursday night for the first time in the Oilers tenure in the ECHL they hosted a team other than a former Central Hockey League opponent when the West Division leading Utah Grizzlies came to Tulsa for the first time. This game would be a 180 degree about-face from Wednesday night’s game in that the Oilers came out hot and hungry, taking a four-goal lead into the first intermission.
Emerson Clark, Adam Pleskach, Dan DeSalvo and Brandon Wong all notched markers in the first 20 minutes, running the score up to an altitude that would be hard for the Grizzlies to match, and while the crowd of 3,825 was extremely satisfied at the game’s first break they remained cautiously optimistic as the Oilers had dropped games that they had roared out to big early leads so many times in the past. Utah managed to solve Kevin Carr only once, at the 15:02 mark of the second period when Alex Krushelnyski beat him with a goal, but by that time a Ben Walker had scored the Oilers fifth goal, which turned out to be all they needed. A tight third period saw Tulsa put forth one of their best defensive efforts of the season as they clamped down and rode the game until the final horn.
The victory gave the Oilers their eighth win of the year and head coach Jason Christie his 491st victory as a head coach, tying him for the all-time ECHL wins record with John Marks, whoc coached several ECHL teams in the past.
The Oilers return to action next Thursday when they host the Idaho Steelheads for the first of a two-game home stand.
NOTE: Thursday night marked the final broadcast for the Oilers play-by-play announcer Rob Loeber. He has accepted a position with Jenks Public Schools as their public relations director. Associate Media Relations Director Rebecca Lane has taken over media relations duties and as of this writing, no replacement for Loeber has been named.
This reporter thanks Rob Loeber for his assistance and support during his tenure as the Oilers Media Relations officer and wishes him well in his new endeavor.