Excuse me for a moment while I get sentimental. I just can't help it. There are things in life worth reminiscing about. I could go on and on about the time I ran my truck into a freshly planted tree in my parents yard. Or maybe I'll recall the time I wandered aimlessly through London, England as a teen. Instead, I'll reach deep into the recesses of my mind and pull out some great Oklahoma hockey memories. Memories that harken a feeling of pride that not too long ago every hockey fan in OKC shared, when names like Sauter, Burton, Arvanitis, Dupont, Simoni were commonly heard on Friday evenings in The Brick. While the Oilers have one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports to remember, I believe there was a moment in time that Oklahoma City hockey fans enjoyed a golden age of their own. Once again, bear with me as I take a trip down memory lane.
Not long ago, circa 1992, the Oklahoma City Blazers coached by ex-NHL player Mike McEwen squirmed their way into the six team Central League revival finals only to lose to the Tulsa Oilers. If this were a Disney movie you'd suddenly see rainbows appear above the downtown skyline as it ushered in a wave of hockey fans rejoicing in the streets. In reality, the hockey bug caught on a few years later when Doug Sauter brought tightness to the dump and chase game and a mustache that would live in infamy. Ushering in nine division titles, two Central League championships, and birthing some great scorers was an amazing feat. Those days spent in the soggy and musty Myriad (now the Cox Center) made for an exciting brand of minor league hockey in a very minor hockey market. Although my sports viewfinder might be clouded by hockey lenses, I've yet to experience an atmosphere in OKC sports quite like those early days in The Myriad Convention Center (Thunder/Lakers '10 in the Ford was very close).
As the Blazers continued to dominate a growing Central League, a major arena was built with the hope of luring some kind of professional team in mind, whether that team involved the use of ice and sticks or not. Of course, the Ford Center was built, the Blazers said goodbye to The Myriad as their permanent home, and hello to a pro style building. It sounded like a great idea, but quickly fans noticed a difference. It just wasn't The Myriad. Bigger? Yes. Brighter? Yes. Shinier? Yes. Better? Debatable. Gone was the close feeling you got at the "old barn". Gone was the autograph session as players left the arena. Being a hockey conspiracy theorist (white goaltender pads) it also seemed to give visiting teams an unnecessary advantage by playing in a larger, more NHL-style building. They got pumped by the glitz and glam and size of it all. When the NBA came to town a few Blazers' games got bumped to the newly named Cox Center and suddenly you felt home.
Call me old school, but I like my minor league hockey to feel, well, minor. Now before I start throwing out comparisons to the Charleston Chiefs let me clarify. I want the AHL to succeed in Oklahoma City. As a matter of fact, I wholeheartedly believe it will, mainly because of the success that hockey has had in this town in the past. Bringing a more meaningful team into the Cox Center that nurtures young and developing players will further push the sport to a level of success. However, teams need to play to their strengths.
Moving the OKC Barons to a revamped version of the Cox Center was a great move. It gave hockey a permanent home again. This arena, even with some modifications, was built for hockey. Small, compact, rugged, and sound enhancing nuances have me excited to capture that "old time" feeling of the successful CHL days. Getting to see incredible development takes it to another level.
Readers of The Copper and Blue are no strangers to the importance of atmosphere in hockey. The 2006 Stanley Cup run was an epic example of hockey enthusiasm at its finest. Needless to say, a young, upstart AHL team can be bolstered by a devoted and raucous fan base. Creating an atmosphere for fans to enjoy while providing great hockey development can carry a team beyond many milestones.
So here's to the Cox Center, home of the Oklahoma City Barons, a place hated by all those that grace her visiting locker rooms. May you enjoy your stay as we relish in your defeat.