Obviously, when we think of Oklahoma, we don’t think hockey. Even that sentence alone is cliché anymore, but, it is still pretty applicable. Ask someone about OKC hockey, most will answer the old CHL Blazers that they grew up with. Some maybe even the new AHL Barons team in its second year. I can guarantee you however, even the self-proclaimed diehard University of Oklahoma Sooner fans that can never not take the opportunity to yell out “BOOMER” in any setting, will be able to tell you about the Sooner hockey team. The same Sooner hockey team that will be playing and celebrating its 10th year on the ice this 2011-2012 season. Yea. 10 years. Wild isn’t it? (Rumor has it, some pretty sweet jerseys will be worn this year as well. Save your pennies kids)
Oklahoma City won an AHL franchise and partnership with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. To be later named as the Barons, OKC has lit up the minor hockey league world in 2 short years. They made the playoffs their first year, 2010-2011, after a shaky and slow start. They brought in a legend in Hershey Bear lore with Bryan Helmer. In 2011-2012 they led the AHL during the season, topping their division. The Barons made it to the Conference Finals and would come up short against the Toronto Marlies. The Marlies would face the Norfolk Admirals in the Calder Cup, losing to THE hottest team in the AHL, smashing records along the way. Not too shabby for a second year hockey team in Oklahoma that can’t even get 4,000 in the door any game. Not to mention multiple AHL awards by several players in that time.
Oklahoma in the National Hockey League
The first hockey player from Oklahoma to play in the NHL was Burr Williams. Williams was from Okemah, Oklahoma, born in 1909. Yea. 1909. You can’t even correlate hockey and Oklahoma in 2012. Imagine for a minute in 1909, some young man from a town of less than 1,100, would go on to play in the NHL. For three different teams.
20 years after Williams left the game, Dan Woodley would be born in 1967 in Oklahoma City.
Woodley would make it to the NHL in 1987 with the Vancouver Canucks. Woodley has the distinction of being the only Oklahoma native to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft. Dan’s father Dave was playing for the CHL Oklahoma City Blazers during Dan’s childhood. Dan is still involved with hockey, now coaching in Colorado and winning State Championships.
The one player I knew personally, being a Chicago Blackhawks fan, was Tyler Arnason.
Arnason was born in 1979, hailing from Choctaw, OK. Last year, Arnason was playing with the AHL’s Texas Stars and returned to OKC to play the Barons this past season. He is now a free agent and has not signed with a team as of yet.
This past season seemed to really get attention focused on Oklahoma City, after Edmond, OK’s Matt Donovan was signed by the New York Islanders during his second year at the University of Denver and would suit up for the NHL team for six games. Matt even has a gold medal to wear after a win with the US Junior team in 2010.
Matt is the first player to be born and raised AND trained in Oklahoma. For hockey in Oklahoma, this was big. On July 31st, 2012, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett awarded Matt his own day. July 31st will now be Matt Donovan day in Oklahoma. Oklahoma now has a day named after it’s first NHL son. Think about that for a minute. OKLAHOMA!
Was this the beginning of a future of serious hockey talk in this part of the world? I think many casual hockey fans in this state would be surprised just how much Oklahoma is becoming an important place to keep an eye on.
The whole point of this writing was to show the steady increase of each player from Oklahoma, the difference between just being from and actually living and training here.
Oklahoma now welcomes another native son moving up the hockey ranks with Taylor Herndon. Herndon played with the NAHL Texas Tornado for the past 2 years, helping the Tornado win the Roberts Cup this season. Taylor has committed to the Division 1 WCHA Minnesota State Mavericks for the 2012-2013 season.
“It really shows our commitment to the Southern hockey player, especially those from Texas and Oklahoma. Two years ago, we picked him up off another team’s roster. Now he’s a scholarship athlete at a Division-I program.”
Herndon racked up 30 goals and assists his two years in Texas. 20 of those goals and 17 assists came in the last 43 games after coming back from a wrist injury.
Taylor as well stayed around Oklahoma City in the off season, keeping in shape. He will be one to definitely keep our eye on.
The hockey future sure is bright in Oklahoma these days. More and more kids are playing the game at the two ice rinks around Oklahoma City, with ex-NHL’ers leading the way. Matt Donovan has also started his own camp in OKC. With a successful AHL team in place, that could possibly further help feed interest, not to mention the 3 players currently in the spotlight for the state, it is worth paying attention to if you are a sports fan in the Oklahoma and Texas area.