TULSA, OK—December is a busy month for the Tulsa Oilers and this year is no exception. Weekend dates clutter the final month of 2015 and the Oilers have a full dance card. This week the Oilers hosted a team for the first time and ended a win streak of a familiar rival.
First up for Tulsa this week would be a pair of games with the Idaho Steelheads, a team from the ECHL West Division who, like the Utah Grizzlies the previous week were making their first visit to Tulsa and helped illustrate to Oilers fans that there is life in the ECHL beyond the borders of the Central Division.
The first game of the two-game set was special in that if the Oilers won it would give head coach Jason Christie his 492nd victory as a head coach in the ECHL and it would allow him to pass John Marks and become the league’s all-time winningest coach.
The Steelheads came to Tulsa after being defeated by the Allen Americans 4-0 in Allen on December 9th while Tulsa had stunned the Utah Grizzlies, the ECHL West division leaders with a 5-1 defeat on December 3rd. The win over the Grizzlies allowed head coach Jason Christie to tie the win record and the Oilers were looking to win to push their coach over the top.
The heroes for the Oilers in the first game with Idaho were Aaron Harstad and Ben Walker. After a scoreless first period, rookie defenseman Aaron Harstad put the Oilers on the board at the 10:35 mark of the second period.
Harstad, who had been sent to the Oilers on Wednesday by the Manitoba Moose, had not been on Oklahoma soil 24 hours before he leaped onto the score sheet with a goal when he punched home a one-timer past Steelhead goalie Phillipe Derosiers off a nifty pass from Phil Brewer.
Then it became the Ben Walker show when he posted two goals, the first one through traffic in front of Derosier’s net and the second when the puck dribbled out to him at the blue line, and he took in and scored on a wrist shot from the right face off circle.
Idaho’s Jefferson Dahl cut the Oilers lead to 3-1 early on in the third period, but that was answered by Tulsa’s Dan DeSalvo when he popped Derosier’s water bottle off the top of the Steelheads net when he blasted in a shot from the top of the right circle to extend the Oilers advantage to 4-1.
Anthony Panzarella would cut the lead with another goal for the visitors but time ran out on the Steelheads and the Oilers came away with their second straight win and ninth overall of the 2015-16 season and Jason Christie’s 492nd win as a head coach in the ECHL.
Sadly, as has been the problem all season with the Oilers they could not sustain the momentum going forward into the rubber match with the Steelheads as they came out a totally different team on Friday night.
It started out all right it seemed when Brian Nugent of the Oilers slipped past an aggressive Steelheads power play and scored a shorthanded goal on a cross-ice feed from Jordyn Kremer 5:21 into the game. That lead was threatened only once in the first period when Idaho was awarded a penalty shot at 11:47 of the period, which was easily handled by Oilers goalie Kevin Carr, who was in his ninth straight start in the Tulsa net.
Tulsa wasted no time getting on the board in the second frame as Aaron Harstad scored backdoor on a feed from Dennis Brown 46 seconds in. Harstad has a goal in both his appearances as an Oiler after being assigned from Manitoba. From there it was unfortunately all Idaho as Dahl, Zack Kamrass and the first ever professional goal by Steelheads rookie Kyle Jean put the game out of reach of the Oilers and an empty net mark by Corbin Baldwin sealed the game for the Steelheads.
The Oilers fell to 9-10-1-1 on the season and the Steelheads improved to 8-14-4-0. A day off was followed by the invasion of the Missouri Mavericks, the hottest team in the ECHL that have been riding a 14-game win streak dating back to November 4th.
The orange horses got on the board early after referee Tudor Floru kicked off a whistle happy game awarding a power play to the Mavericks by seating Emerson Clark for a tripping penalty.
It took just 28 seconds after Clark took his seat for the Mavs to convert as Andrew Courtney’s shot trickled off of the pads of Kevin Carr and into the net behind him to put the visitors ahead 1-0 just sixty seconds into the game. Dan DeSalvo picked the pocket of Mavericks defenseman Trevor Ludwig and responded five minutes later to even the score at one.
Sebastien Sylvestre knocked the puck into Carr’s net after a flurry of action in fro0nt of the Oilers goal to pull the visitors head at the game’s first break, Kevin Carr has been the busiest goalie on the planet of late, as in ten starts since Jussi Olkinuora was called up to the Manitoba Moose he’s turned in 891 minutes, with a record of 8-7-0-0 in 15 starts this year with a 1.95 goals against average, good enough for fourth overall in the ECHL as of this writing.
Emerson Clark slapped in a rebound to level the score at 2-2 in the middle of the second period (6:34) after C.J. Ludwig was boxed for cross checking. Ben Walker then scored off a neat pass from Brian Nugent to give the Oilers their first lead of the game, which they would take into the second break.
The Mavs pulled even again in the third period again off the stick of Tanner Fritz and looked to take the lead when a Mavs player sent a rocket into Carr’s net from near the red line. Floru ruled a no goal as a player was offside when the puck was shot, so the score remained 3-3 until the 12:32 mark of the third when Tulsa defenseman Mathieu Brisebois sent the puck through traffic and i9nto the Missouri net to give the home team the lead once more.
The Oilers held on through several close calls and Kevin Carr making some amazing saves in the final eight minutes for the final horn. The Mavericks streak was halted at 14 wins and the Oilers pulled even in wins and losses at 10-10-1-1 on the season.
The Oilers will close out the month and 2015 at home with two games against longtime rival Wichita this Friday and Saturday in the BOK Center.
Photos: Kevin Pyle, Tulsa Today