Just because the NHL can't get its act together doesn't mean hockey is dead. It's alive and well right here in Tulsa.
When considering adult recreational athletics, the usual sports of leisure come to mind: bowling, golf, doubles tennis, maybe even shuffle board if we're talking about older folks. For those who prefer higher intensity games, basketball, softball, and flag football may come to mind. While Tulsa offers these, as well as a multitude of other recreational options for just about anyone, one of the more popular activities among men ranging in age from 18 all the way to the mid-60s just happens to be ice hockey.
Hosted by Oilers Ice Center, 6413 S. Mingo Road, adult amateur hockey has been a staple in Tulsa for quite some time. Just over a decade ago, the Tulsa Oilers purchased the ice center and continued in the tradition of hosting men's amateur hockey leagues for those brave enough to lace up a pair of skates and take to the ice.
Initially, those with a significant amount of hockey experience coveted the amateur leagues. Former high school, college, and even professional players accounted for the majority of Tulsa's amateur hockey playing population. According to the ice center's general manager Justin Lund, several former Central Hockey League players, as well as a few with NHL experience have participated in the league over the years. Today, however, people from all different walks of life take part in the league on a nightly basis, making hockey one of the city's most enjoyed pastimes. While many of the teams and players are perennial fixtures in the league, each year more novice and intermediate level players help add to the league's already substantial membership.
For those who have never experienced firsthand the game of hockey, the idea of skating with a stick while trying not to get leveled by an opposing player may seem like a daunting task. Because the game is widely known for bone-crushing hits, a lightning fast tempo and unprecedented hand-eye-coordination, the common belief is that hockey is not only just a difficult sport to pick up, but even a more difficult sport to get good at. Fortunately, Oilers Ice Center offers players four different skill divisions in which to compete, providing participants with fair competition and an opportunity to develop skills at their own pace.
"It's a time for them to get away once a week and, for some of them, it's recreational; others want to improve and get better," Lund said. "If they get in there and it doesn't fit, we'll try to move them around to where it may fit a little better."
Another great aspect of the ice center's adult league is the emphasis placed on player safety. Although hockey involves a significant amount of contact, the league is sanctioned by the national governing body for ice hockey, USA Hockey, Inc., and includes all the necessary safety regulations to ensure injuries are kept to an absolute minimum.
"Ninety percent of these guys have to get up and go to work in the morning and they don't want to have to go to work all beaten up," Lund said. "It's competitive; it's aggressive; but we also like to try and control how aggressive it gets. At the end of the day, it should be fun, and guys shouldn't have to worry about getting injured."
Currently, the league consists of 26 teams composed of 10 to 15 players. Games are played mostly on weekday nights and all day Sunday. Throughout the year, Oilers Ice Center offers those teams four seasonal opportunities to compete in a 10-game league schedule and playoff tournament. Additionally, the league offers tournaments throughout the year and often attempts to host the game on a grander stage. The first round of the annual Thanksgiving tournament was played on the ice of Tulsa's most prestigious venue, the BOK Center. With backing from the Tulsa Oilers organization, the league looks to further integrate the BOK Center into future events, making it the only amateur league in town that offers the opportunity to compete at a professional venue.
Given the fast and often frenetic pace of the game, there's no denying hockey makes for a fantastic way to spend a few days per month. Couple that excitement with an organization that provides those with varying levels of skill the ability to enjoy the sport, and many Tulsans may find themselves hanging up the bowling shirts and investing in a new pair of skates.
"Hockey's a lot bigger [in Tulsa] than people think," Lund said.
With an amateur program that sees nearly 400 players take to the ice each week, and junior leagues that account for several hundred more players, Lund's point is difficult to argue.
Joining the amateur men's league at Oilers Ice Center is easy. Though the league has enjoyed a steady increase in recent years, Lund says there's always room for growth.
Individuals as well as entire teams are welcome to join. For those looking to size themselves up against local talent, or simply engage in a more casual game, the ice center hosts pickup games each Friday starting at 8am. Those entirely new to some of the core skills of hockey can also partake in instructional skating sessions on Saturdays at 11:15am. For more information, contact the ice center's director of adult hockey, Eric Lawless, at 918-252-0011.
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