A shot of opening night. Fans were ready to rumble. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
In just one season the Oklahoma City Barons have infused their hockey revelry in the local community and into the hearts of fans. Those young and old have witnessed a historic moment for the better parts of five months as they embraced a team that was full of unfamiliar faces. Gone was the Central League and it's glorious history in central Oklahoma, and in came the American League with a roar of curiosity.
Sparked by fan support from the get-go, the Barons trudged through road trips, endured a plethora of call-ups, and clung to post season play until the final horn resounded to end the season. Through thick and thin, these faithful Oklahomans loved, cherished, squirmed, sweated, and cheered their team to victory (and sometimes defeat). If anything, this season was proof that hockey fans are alive and well in Oklahoma.
In honor of the inaugural season and the good and bad that goes along with it, the Copper & Blue has teamed up with local Oklahoma City fans to get their perspectives on a whirlwind of a season. We could spend the better part of the day digesting a "Best Of" list, and that would be fine. However, we've chosen to head in another direction; a fan-honored direction.
Below you will see a few brief, but personal writings by some important Barons fans. Important because they absorbed the entire season as a whole, commented on its importance, and joked about its future. From different backgrounds they emerge in the great plains of Oklahoma, wearing the badge of "hockey fan" proudly, and supporting a sport/team that they've come to love.
So without further ado, I give you...the fans.
Most Impressive Baron by Eric Rodgers
Meet Mr. Rodgers. In his neighborhood he's the constant Barons game tweeter (@AHLBarons) that's more consistent than Deslauriers' gloveside. His contributions to both Oilers Jambalaya and Oil Field Hockey are unique and spot-on fan perspectives of the game. Here's his take on the most impressive Baron to-date.
I thought this would be a pretty easy one when Neal asked me to write this up. After really thinking about it, I realized it wouldn't be so easy. All of the guys have impressed me in one way or another, but I figure that's to be expected in their first year in OKC. I originally narrowed it down to three candidates; Linus Omark, Teemu Hartikainen, and Colin McDonald, but I had a hard time excluding Mark Arcobello. Omark, in his North American debut obviously did a lot to impress. His 5-goal game against the Toronto Marlies stands as the top highlight in his short tenure. McDonald, to go from a career high of 12 goals in a season to 34 and still counting, is huge.
So to help narrow it down, Omark, I had known to expect something though. McDonald, his performance is probably better suited for a Most Improved Player. So that leaves Hartikainen and Arcobello. I knew very little about Hartikainen coming into this season. He was a rookie from Finland with very little hype compared to some of the other rookies, so I wasn't expecting much. He certainly changed that opinion. His hits, his board work, his goals. He's going to be a force to reckon with in a couple seasons, which has become apparent to everyone else in the Oilers Nation after his call up to Edmonton. Arcobello came to the Barons in training camp and earned himself an AHL deal as he was sent to Stockton after the Oilers sent everyone down. His first stint with the Barons, he played one game before being sent back down for the ECHL All-Star Game in which he earned himself the MVP. When he came back up, he made it count scoring 16 points in 21 games, filling in for the Oilers call ups. He's definitely made a case to be on the roster full time next season.
So, I'm going to cop out and throw in a mid-season exemption. Teemu Hartikainen earns Most Impressive for the whole season, Mark Arcobello earns Most Impressive for mid-season call up.
The biggest thing of it all, this has been an awesome season, despite the playoff push woes of losing the majority of our scoring to call ups. I'm looking forward to the next few years and getting to watch the rebuild from the very beginning. If the this season is an indication of the future, Oilers fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming year.
Cheering For Another Team by Laura McElfresh
It's not uncommon to see a Ryan Kesler jersey, the occasional Sidney Crosby tee, or even a Flyers cap now and again in the Cox Center. Hockey fans in Oklahoma come from all over, and their team persuasions are as varied as can be. Laura (@lauramac95), on the other hand, follows a team deeper south. A Barons fan on most nights, she's been known to cheer for the Aeros when they ride into town.
What is it like cheering for another team while being an OKCer?
Easier than you might think.
Hi there, I'm the chick in the green Aeros sweater. Any other time I'm right in the Barons' corner; but not when the Bomber squad comes to town. My dream scenario would've been for the Barons to cross over into the North Division & win it, meeting up with the Aeros in the conference finals -- preferring that Houston would win, of course. But either way, I'd still have a team playing for the Calder Cup.
It can be kind of educational, occasionally seeing "my" usual team (the Barons) with an opponent's eyes. Sometimes, I don't notice the things the things they do well until I find myself wishing they didn't do them *quite* so well! For example, I think that 3-game weekend in Houston was a lot closer than the record indicates. With the late pressure the Barons put on, I was all but sure that the Sunday game was going to OT. And that time in OKC when JDD unloaded on Houston's Jon DiSalvatore? So wrong -- but still so awesome.
Of course, part of what makes it so easy to turn traitor and then switch right back is that OKC fans are generally pretty understanding & nice about it. (I hope anyone who's gone down to Houston has been treated well too -- even in that 8-2 shellacking, my husband has done just fine at Houston's Toyota Center in his Barons gear.) They seem to figure that my heart's usually in the right place, even if it is a little weird.
So, I guess I wouldn't say my loyalties are divided: they're compartmentalized, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Go Aeros, go Barons, and I'll see y'all at the Cox Box!
Best Fight by Brett LaBare
Our resident hockey player, and owner/admin of the always populer OKCHockey forums, Brett (@OKCHockey) is a die-hard hockey fan. Although he's of the Minnesota Wild variety, he's an Oklahoma-proud fan of all things OKC hockey. If you've not ventured out, seen his recorded fight videos, or signed on to the forums, you're missing out. Here's Brett's take on the best fight of the season.
Best fight of the year huh? Well, that's a tough one. Technically, this was the best home game fight that I saw. And then there is the matter of semantics. Is the best fight the biggest slugfest of the year? Or is it one where it changes the momentum of the game and the Barons go on to a big win? I looked through all of my videos of the year to find the best mix of both.
I picked the Ondrus-Wilson fight for a few reasons. First off Wilson is known as a bit of an agitator. Milwaukee had back to back games in OKC and the Barons whipped them 5-2 in the first game. Jake Taylor and Wilson fought with under a minute left in the first game, followed by a Jordan Bendfeld - Ryan Flynn tilt 1 second later. Maybe a message to send to game 2.
Wilson was running wild in the first period of game 2. He took 2 or possibly 3 borderline late hits during the opening 20 minutes. With the Barons up 1-0, Wilson comes from behind and cross checks Ondrus to the ice. Ondrus gets up immediately and the gloves are off. What I liked about this fight is that the Ondrus showed Milwaukee they aren't going to be pushed around. And, it was an excellent fight with some big punches thrown. The Barons then went on to score 3 unanswered goals and win 4-1.
The Wolves of Great Importance by Linda Donnelly
The always hilarious, always timely, and always faithful fan of all things puck, Linda is the real deal. Don't believe me? Check out her twitter feed (@puckchk), read her insightful blogs (Some Things Bruin & A World Unto), and learn a thing or two about hockey. She loves the great Windy City, and the sports teams contained within. But for Linda, the game of hockey has a deep, personal meaning.
The love affair started in 1994. Before the announcement of the Chicago Wolves start, I had been attending Peoria Rivermen games. Peoria started my minor league hockey addiction. Yes, Blackhawks games were fun, but the game was just...different in the minors. It was like watching college kids, trying to get their spot in the pros vs the kids that were already playing in the big leagues. The fans were entirely different to. Now, this could just be because of the contrast between Chicago and Peoria, I was too young at the time to realize that, it was just a better environment for kids. Well, and boring sometimes as well. As a sports fan, you have to have noise from the crowd to create that excitement and energy. Minor league hockey did lack a bit there compares to Chicago Stadium.
To explain to the masses of Oklahoma City Barons fans that ask why I represent the Wolves when they come to town, it's almost hard to explain. It's a passionate story I suppose. Maybe it's the love for the team. Maybe it's the events surrounding opening day. Maybe it's the correlation betweent the two teams, my witnessing and being a part of an opening day for a new team.Will I love the Barons as much as I love the Wolves?? Will the Barons give me a reason to root for them over my Wolves? Will a playoff featuring the two destroy me?
Let me explain a bit-Chicago's inaugral game came at a time when I thought I would lose my best friend, my cousin, who was only 16. She needed a liver transplant. She had never been to a hockey game before. Her mom didn't want her to go, she carried around a beeper, in case another person died and they needed to get her to the hospital to try a transplant. We convinced-actually, I should say SHE convinced her mother to let us take her. She wanted to see a hockey game before she died. She had already accepted it. I always wondered why my dad was so morose that game. I know why now. He was on pins & needles waiting for that beeper to go off. The beeper went off a couple of months later, and she received her transplant on New Year eve. She is still a Chicago Wolves fan I'm happy to report.
The other, less dramatic part to this love affair, is, I love wolves in general, so how could I not drool over that logo?? The opening night, we were also witness to Wayne Messmer returning to the ice to sing the National Anthem shortly after being shot and thinking he would never sing again. The place was an emotional wreck and it was great to shake his hand when he roamed the aisles during the game.
Fast forward 16 years. I moved away from the Chicago land to Oklahoma, land of the OKC Blazers at the time. Watching CHL hockey was quite a shock to me, even from an IHL/AHL veteren. Never the less, I went and supported the Blazers...hell, it was all there was. Then came the end of the Blazers in 2009. I admit, I was freaking out. I needed to have hockey around, even if it was the Central Hockey League. I was never a heavy Blazers fan, I yearned for and missed my "real" hockey. When it was announced that Oklahoma City would be getting an AHL, my first response was whoops of joy. My second thought was "That would be the coolest thing ever if the Wolves come here!" The Barons have made me happy with their play this year, I admit, better than I originally thought. We have a great group of guys that are for the most part fun to watch on the ice. I might not get over my honeymoon with the AHL in Oklahoma City for a while, I expect it to run into next season for sure. It has been great to see my old teams I grew up with once again in Peoria and Chicago, even some new ones I always wanted to see, Lake Erie, Manitoba, and Rockford for example. The AHL experience all around is great for hockey fans, let's hope the Barons can continue on the tradition.
Favorite Photographed Moment by Rob Ferguson
Chances are you know Rob. You may not have seen his face, heard his voice, but you know who he is. He's the one behind the glass, snapping away at moments that occur so fast in real-time, but truly come to life in the still. He's a local Oklahoma City photographer (web | facebook) who has a knack for hockey photos, especially of the goaltending variety. Here's his favorite photographed moment.
The now famous "snow day". - This was a moment in the season I very fond memories of. Hockey was played that day in its purest form, no promotions, light show or loud music. Not only did the Barons give us a win, after the game they asked everyone to come to the ice for a photo of a lifetime.
After taking this photo I met so many "dyed in the wool" fans and made a few new friends.
Social Media Rules! by Carl Walls
Carl is all about the twitter. His fun-loving, hockey fundom is spread across three hockey related twitter feeds. I caught up with him as @CarlWalls, but you may have found him at @OkieBTeam covering the Barons or perhaps as @AvsOkie. Either way, he's a riot. Dreaming up hashtags like #PeoriaIsForHookers when the Rivermen take insane amounts of hooking penalties to Andrew Lord getting the #LordyLordy tag for his fisticuffs - Carl delivers the tweets. A true fan, with a true love of hockey. Here's are Carl's thoughts on Barons social media.
Of all the elements of the Baron's marketing strategy this year, I think social media is likely the most successful. The remainder of their efforts are debatable - but they came out of the gate with a serious effort to use a combination of Twitter and Facebook, and use them well.
The in-game updates were what caught my eye first - this is something that my NHL team does not even offer. It allowed me to keep up with games where I could not attend or have a radio on. (which as a full time student who often works on campus or has class in the evening, can be often) From there I found the fan community on Twitter, which while small is one of the most authoritative sources of news and updates up and down the organization. It is this community that inspired me to go from just having an account I never use, to a dedicated user with multiple targeted accounts for different purposes. So in this way, Twitter has enhanced my fan experience in a way I had not experienced in all the years before.
I also tried Facebook, using it to try and convince friends to come along and join in on the fun. This has proved mildly successful, as we brought a few groups along with us. You might also say the official Facebook page is more successful than Twitter, quickly gaining over 6000 listed fans. However, the discussion on that page is often less than productive and degrades into Barons vs Blazers arguments which cascade in endless recursion. So while it has its uses, I have found the official resources here somewhat the somewhat less useful option.
One interesting area of note has to be the social media contests the Barons started late in the year. I was lucky enough to win one of the in game Twitter contests (which later expanded to Facebook as well) and was able to share the prize with some new potential hockey fans we brought along, which was nice. There are of course the between game trivia contests on Twitter, as well. I have noticed with these a tendency for Oilers fans to win, since you do not have to be physically in Oklahoma. Not necessarily a bad thing, but interesting. Regardless, I doubt they make much of an impact, with maybe 10-15 fans participating in each contest.
Overall, I would say the social media efforts have been helpful in enhancing the overall Barons experience for my wife and I this year. It is a much different experience than being 700 miles away from my favorite team with no one you know who likes hockey - meeting people in person and online who share the love of hockey has been a significant improvement. (Even inspired me to seek out similar resources for my NHL team, which has been a nice bonus)
My only concern is that while social media helps enhance the experience for diehard fans, it does little to expand the fan base beyond a small number. With maybe 2000 fans on Twitter and 6000 on Facebook, many of whom have to look Oklahoma up on a map, neither service will do much to fill the empty seats at the Cox Center. In developing the die-hard fans hockey is known for, however, it seems to me that the Barons have found social media to be the perfect solution.