Believe it or not, Tulsa has had a sports buzz about it all year long.
It began following the Tulsa Golden Hurricane's 11-2 season, which included a Conference USA title and 31-17 Liberty Bowl victory. Then the Tulsa Shock drafted star point guard Skylar Diggins, who helped lead Notre Dame to two straight national title game appearances.
But the promise has thus far not been fulfilled. Tulsa football has a losing record, and the Shock showed only a two game improvement over last year.
Another sports season has just begun, however, and, it, too, has been hotly anticipated.
The Tulsa Oilers hockey team began their season October 18 on the road in Denver with a two-game series against the Denver Cutthroats, but open up at home this weekend against the Allen Americans on Saturday and Sunday at the BOK Center
Many would say the season truly began on a Tuesday afternoon in late June, when the team announced and introduced new owners Steven Brothers Sports Management, a Wichita-based company.
This was the beginning of the buzz, and, since the new owners took over, the Oilers have been off and running to prepare for this season. "The expectations are pretty sky high to be honest with you," said Rob Loeber, the team's director of media relations. "Moving forward with new ownership in place, new resources, and more staff members than we've ever had, we're out there selling tickets, pounding the pavement working to put a better team and better product on the ice for fans," Loeber said.
The owners of Steven Brothers Management -- Brandon, Johnny, and Rodney Steven -- purchased the team from Jeff Lund, who became general manager of the team back in 1992 in the team's return to the city and purchased the team in 1999. Before buying the team, the new owners from Wichita were entrepreneurs who, before 2011, had no interest in owning a hockey team. They had Genesis Health Clubs, a successful chain, and, multiple car dealerships and other successful businesses within Wichita.
In April 2011, though, the Steven trio's interest in the sport changed after making a five-year deal to purchase a local ice rink for the Genesis Health Club. Within the next four months following the purchase, their love for the sport grew and they created Steven Brothers Sports Management, LLC, making a push and eventually acquiring local CHL team the Wichita Thunder.
Just under the short three-year span of the brothers' ownership, the Thunder have gone from one of the more underachieving teams in the league to one of the premier franchises. Making back-to-back appearances in the Ray Minon President's Cup Finals, they've also posted the highest winning percentage in the CHL at .670 and have restored faith in a hockey team -- and are now looking to do it again here in Tulsa.
"They upped their exposure around town, they upped their attendance and they are looking to do the same here along with putting a winning product out each night," Loeber said.
Along with new ownership, here are some other things for the fans to keep an eye out for this upcoming season:
The new owners have worked closely with three-year head coach Bruce Ramsay to put together the best squad for this season.
"They've given Coach Ramsay the vote of confidence and the green light to put together a great roster, and he's done a nice job attracting some big time talent to come here during the offseason," Loeber said.
Ramsay brought in veterans Todd Robinson, Tomas Klempa, and Nathan Lutz.
Robinson, the biggest name of the three, is a former league scoring champ and helped lead the Allen Americans to their first Ray Minon President's Cup last season after being traded from the Evansville Iceman, where he won a scoring title in 2011.
"One of the best players in minor league hockey and, even at the age of 35, still has plenty of tread left on the tires to be a top line player for us," Loeber said.
Robinson has a close relationship with Coach Ramsay dating back to their playing days in the United Hockey League with the Muskegon Fury. Ramsay was his teammate from 2004-05 and head coach (2006-07) in Muskegon and coached him in the IHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks where he posted a league high 112 points. In his career Robinson has 1,289 assists, 1,776 points, and scored 445 goals and is entering his 20th professional season.
Klempa, a five-year pro and Slovakia native, has 86 career goals and 121 career assists.
Lutz, pronounced LOO-tz, is a veteran defenseman brought in to help shore up holes along the defensive side of the ice. He's entering his 11th season.
"The oldest guy on the team, but great leader, great veteran presence, and very poised," Loeber said about Lutz.
The biggest departure for the Oilers this season will be that of captain and fan favorite Tyler Fleck.
"The ultimate leader, no one more well liked or respected, a pro's pro, tough, gritty, just everything you wanted from a player," Loeber said of the former captain.
Fleck retired following a 14-year career that featured stints in Oklahoma City, Missouri, and four years with the Oilers.
Player to watch
Keep an eye on returning forward Ryan Menei.
The 27-year-old is entering his 10th season and second with the Oilers after leading the team in scoring last season with 34 goals, 48 assists, and 82 points while playing in all 66 games last season.
"He wanted to be a part of the turnaround and with fellow forward Ben Gordon coming back, when healthy and firing on all cylinders (they) can be a pretty dangerous combination," Loeber said.
After finishing last season 22-39-5 and watching eight of the 10 teams ahead of them head to the playoffs, the Oilers had plenty of motivation coming into this season. Throw in the new attitude provided by the new ownership, key acquisitions, and a hunger to get better, they know this is a playoff-or-bust type season.
"The talent we have assembled, with the backing of new ownership, and a re-energized fan base, there is no reason for us to miss the playoffs this year and with this team possibly make a deep run," Loeber said.
For more information on the Oilers, tickets, and promotional nights, visit tulsaoilers.com.
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