The bowl games begin rolling through the holiday season in a tick. Until then, we are due for some hockey talk. The Oilers deserve praise for rising from the dead. A solid winning streak has them whispering the "P" word. Playoffs. Let's take it a little deeper in the T-Town hockey ranks. Sometimes we get a little caught up in college hoopla and forget about the little guys. Oklahoma State, OU and TU provided delicious storylines throughout the year. My apologies for ignoring Tulsa Youth Hockey. More specifically, Tulsa's high school hockey scene. We currently have four teams competing in Tulsa: Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow and the Comets. The Comets are no longer the Bishop Kelley Comets. They now encompass Tulsa Public. "We get the extra kids from around the area," said Comets head coach Chris Simms. Simms played professionally for the Tulsa Oilers back in 1997. After a few years abroad, he returned to Tulsa in 2001 and has been the coach of the Comets since 2004. Back in 2004, there were more kids participating in the high school programs. Today the 5-10 years-old range is thriving. If most continue the path, the high school program will be healthy in a few years. So do the teams grow tired of competing against the same squads over and over? "I wouldn't say tired because we have some pretty good rivalries," Simms said. "I never get tired of playing games. It would be nice if there were a few more high school teams out there just to have exhibition games with or tournaments with." The surrounding areas' high school squads are basically all star teams. For example, Wichita or Fayetteville might send a team to Tulsa, but it would be their elite travel team.
Excitement in the high school hockey ranks is at an all-time high. The kids might not realize it, but they can scratch one off their bucket list Sunday night. Then again, they probably do not know what a bucket list is unless they watched the horrific Jack Nicholson flick. Our four teams will compete in the first ever GTR Cup at the BOK Center on Sunday, Dec. 19 before the Oilers game. The winners and losers face each other on Tuesday evening to crown a champ. Very few will make it to the next level. Even fewer will skate in a rink on par with the BOK. "These kids are very, very, very excited," Simms said. "They have been talking about it for months." The Comets take on Broken Arrow while Jenks and Union get reacquainted on the slick surface. BA holds a 2-0-1 advantage over the Comets this year. The last one was a bit of a thumping. Comets captain Jeremy Reese along with Paul Wilson, Ethan Gehring and the rest of the crew hope to reverse the trend. We're almost all professional here. "We have our players do a lot with the young kids in the Tulsa Youth Hockey program, so this is a great way for the Oilers to help the older kids in the program," Oilers general manager Taylor Hall said. "This will be great to have these teams playing at the BOK Center before our games, and we hope the GTR Cup becomes a big event on the Tulsa sports calendar." Imagine a regional high school hockey tournament staged on our home ice. This inside the box thinking is what invigorates the sports scene. Simms enjoys coaching the high school age range. He can help them hone their already developing skills which suits his strength. He breaks down the high school hockey players into three groups. "You have the kids who wanted to play hockey since they put on skates when they were two years old," he said. "Then you have a group of kids that found out about hockey later on. They start in that 12-14 year-old range." The last group includes the multisport athletes. They play sports year around such as hockey, football and baseball. The issue facing the youth hockey movement in Tulsa is twofold. First of all, not many backyard ice rinks across Green Country. So naturally, northern states and Canada have a skate up in competition from the get go. Similarly, ice time is precious. When I relocated to Tulsa in 1996, T-Town boasted of two rinks. Not any more. "The Tulsa Ice Arena was sold to Ashbury church," Simms said. "So now we only have one rink." The Oilers Ice Center, 6413 South Mingo Road, stays busy. "You went to filling two rinks' time slots to filling one," Simms said. "I think the schedulers have done a pretty good job with the limited amount of ice." My brain regurgitates the same idea every four years during the Winter Olympics. Curling captures my imagination. It makes for a decent viewing so I figure playing might be kind of fun. My Canadian friend said curling rinks are difficult to maintain due to the stress placed on the ice. The Powerball seems to be against me, avoiding my numbers at all costs. However, if I ever hit the jackpot, you can bet I'm opening up a grand ice arena. Alternating days between open skate and curling. And hopefully the number of high school hockey teams will have doubled or tripled by then. Visit eteamz.com/thsh
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