POSTED ON JANUARY 21, 2009:
9 No More
A fan favorite returns to the ice for his retirement speech
How's this for a storyline: A lead character is replaced, commitment to viewership is renewed and a legendary figure returns. Sounds like the plot to a crappy daytime soap.
The Tulsa Oilers main office has not lacked for excitement during the past month. On December 29, the team announced the firing of Coach Dan Hodge. Hodge directed a strong finish last year, but this season's squad failed to live up to elevated expectations. His record was 8-15-3 at the time of his dismissal.
"Dan (Hodge) is a very good guy and worked real hard at it. It wasn't from any lack of effort. He did everything he could do. It was just unfortunate that it didn't convert to more wins," said Taylor Hall, the Oilers general manager.
The team tabbed former Oilers goalie Tony Martino to lead the team. They anticipated competing for a playoff spot when the season began. Now, they vie for respectability.
"Tony was one of many people that were considered for the job," said Hall. The team focused on three criteria when the abrupt search commenced. Coaching experience, strong recruiting acumen and a winning pedigree.
Martino backstopped the Tulsa Oilers 1992-93 championship season from between the pipes. He coached six years in the minor leagues and overseas while accruing a solid winning record along the way.
The hiring is conspicuous for one apparent reason. Is this another veiled attempt by the organization to recycle a former Oiler into the mix with hopes of rejuvenating the once rabid fan base? Or was Martino the correct hire regardless of past experience in T-Town?
"We were really looking for the best available guy we could bring in. Like I said, the connection with him and our team in years past is fantastic. Don't get me wrong -- it's a nice marketing thing for us to bring a guy back like Tony who was a winner when he was a player, but if Tony wasn't qualified to be the best available coach we wouldn't have hired him," said Hall.
Martino got off to a rocky start with the Oilers. His emphasis on special teams is starting to pay off. Can the team turn around the mess that is their special teams play?
The Oilers currently rank 15 out of 16 teams in penalty killing (75.40 percent) and 13 out of 16 in power play (16.08 percent). I'm no hockey expert, but me thinks these numbers tell the story.
On the sunny side of Oilers hockey comes word of a long overdue ceremony.
If I say Oilers hockey, what is the first thing (or name) that pops into your cranium? Don't peak. Think about it for a second. Did you come up with an answer?
If your answer rhymes with snuggie performance, you win.
This Friday night is a special evening in Tulsa Oilers lore, and not because of the showdown with the insufferable Oklahoma City Blazers.
It's the night fans clamor for year in and year out. The number 9 will be taken out of the rotation for future Oilers.
Doug Lawrence's jersey will take its rightful place alongside the four already retired jersey's including Millard Wakeford (number 12), Luc Beausoleil (number 17) and Mike Berger (number 44).
Dougie earned his reputation as a fan favorite. He was a linemate's dream. His hard work and skillfulness were apparent each and every night. He combined raw talents with unbridled passion that endures today.
"Not only was he the best scorer that we ever had in the uniform but also he was the leader in penalty minutes all-time," said Hall, also a former teammate.
"The fans loved the physical play here and Dougie gave you the physical play and the scoring. He was a complete package. The only thing we wish is that we could have him back in the lineup today."
Dougie's voice turns prideful when discussing the jersey retirement. "It's a great honor. It's a neat privilege to have," said Lawrence. His father is flying in from Canada to partake in the festivities.
"The support from the fans back then and winning a cup. That was probably my biggest memories," said Lawrence as he reminisced about a time when Oilers tickets were the hottest in town.
He started skating at the age of one and played professionally for 18 years. He misses the camaraderie with teammates but not the grind of fighting every night and busing from city to city.
I feel like a school girl gushing over the high school quarterback. It's with good reason. I moved to Tulsa in the early '90s. Looking for an outlet, my buddy took me to an Oilers game.
I had seen minor league hockey but there was something different in this town. There was a guy absolutely wreaking havoc all over the ice. The crowd went bonkers. His replica jersey was littered throughout the stands. He sported a signature blonde mullet. Scoring, fighting and leading his team to victory. The Oilers and Dougie Lawrence made my move to T-Town that much easier.
Speaking of his fantastic mullet, the image is captured on a bobble head to be featured during his jersey retirement celebration. The BOK Center will be rocking January 23.
The bobble head is the first to be offered in Oilers history. The likeness of Dougie can be yours under three different scenarios. Season ticket holders can purchase in advance.
Fans can buy the Doug Lawrence ticket pack (nine vouchers good for nine tickets) or show up early - very early to Friday's game.
"I'm just going to go out there and thank the fans for supporting me. Make it short and sweet. I don't want to sit out there and do a big long talk. It's going to be a fun night," said Lawrence.
Lawrence lives in town with his family. His 9-year-old son, Tanner, is quite the athlete himself. A burgeoning hockey star? "He's more into the football and baseball," said Lawrence. His son scored 35 of his teams 37 touchdowns this past year. "He's a heck of an athlete."
Visit www.tulsaoilers.com for more information.
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