Oklahoma City Sets Single Game Attendance Record 7,109
The Oklahoma City Jr Blazers had a plan to do things right in their inaugural season and so far, have done that and more. The Blazers began their first year in the Western States Hockey League in mid October and ripped off an astounding 12 straight wins. OKC looked nothing like an expansion team for the first month of the season as they quickly climbed to first place in the WSHL's Midwest division. The Blazers actually started the season almost a month after everyone else, something the Blazers intended to do.
"We did a lot of planning leading up to the beginning of the season, we had a year to get our ducks in a row and scheduling as late as possible was a priority from day one," said Blazers General Manager and Head Coach Tyler Fleck. " We bought the franchise in may of 2013 and went dormant for a year. I saw what happened to several other franchises when they got in and started up right away that fall. They struggled to recruit and struggled to win games. We wanted to make sure we were loaded and ready when the puck dropped for our first game. We wanted to do it right."
The Blazers have a lineup that is loaded alright, Fleck signed the best Oklahoma had to offer and then went out and recruited several key veteran players from around the world. In all there are nine Oklahoma born players on the Blazers roster.
A key to the Blazers success early on was former University of Oklahoma forward, Plano, Texas native, Matt Levene. The lightning quick winger shredded his opponents scoring 21 times in just 10 games. Levene has since cooled off considerably as he has been battling injury.
"Matty is unstoppable in this league when he is on. He's been banged up lately so the holiday break will be good for him to heal up. He's the fastest guy in the entire league and his speed adds another dimension to our hockey club."!
Oklahoma City set the WSHL single game attendance record onSaturday, October 25th when they packed in 7,109 to the Cox Convention Center in downtown OKC. On a night where the new Blazers brought back everything from the early days as a pro franchise, the hometown team hammered visiting Dallas 8-3.
"Pack the house night was very special for many reasons. Obviously to set the record was great but it was really special for the players. I know there were players on both teams that haven't played in front of 100 people let alone seven thousand. It was exciting. We have guys on our roster like (Kole) Hudson and (Devin) Burchett that grew up watching the Blazers play in front of those huge crowds. They were living it and it was awesome."
The Blazers are looking to have 2 more games downtown possibly before the end of the year and the team hopes for a similar turnout.
OKC currently sits with a 17 wins and 7 losses record and will look to build on their solid start in the new year. The team is off for the holidays and return back to the ice on January 5th for practices. The Blazers next 4 games are against in state rival Tulsa as the enter into a pair of weekend home and homes series.
Fleck is looking forward to tweaking a few things to make a strong playoff run.
"After facing the best teams in the league at the showcase we know where we stand and where we have to get better. We didn't play our best and took it on the chin a bit up there but better now than later."
The Blazers started the midseason showcase off with a win vs Casper but then dropped three consecutive games to Idaho, Valencia and Fresno. The Blazers opponents had a combined 93 wins and an average win percentage of .810.
"I have a couple more players coming in in the new year, we will see what happens. Guys will have to battle and perform to be in the lineup. We gave everyone a fair shot here in the first half, but it's time to buckle down. Overall I'm happy with our group, we have a good mix of youth and veterans."
If Oklahoma City wants to have a shot at a league championship in their first year, it is inevitable they will have to go through the El Paso Rhino's to do it. OKC got their first taste of the defending National Champions in late November when the Blazers made the 700 mile hike to the Mexican border town. The first year Blazers were not intimidated and did what no other team had done in over a year and that was beat the Rhinos in their own barn. After a convincing 5-2 win in game 1, the series got nasty and the Rhinos took the next two games handily. When the dust settled seven Blazers were suspended and 3 more injured leaving OKC extremely shorthanded for the next 2 weeks of league play. The series ended in El Paso with both teams refusing to shake hands. It's safe to say a rivalry was born.
"They are the Champs, you can't take that from them. If we want to be the champs we have to beat them. Plain and simple. Our hockey clubs are very similar. Very skilled and very aggressive. We play them six more times before the playoffs........its going to be a war. They don't like us and we don't like them, it's no secret."
The skilled aggressive style of play is very evident in the numbers through the first 24 games. Oklahoma City is averaging just shy of 5 goals for a game and sits 2nd in the league in a!verage penalty minutes per game at 27.
MVP: LW Matt Levene - The speedy winger was a scoring machine through the first portion of the schedule. His timely goals lifted the Blazers to big wins in Springfield and El Paso. Levene has missed games at last weeks showcase with an upper body injury. He currently sits 4th in the league in goals with 24 but has only played 19 games.
BEST ROOKIE: RW Kirill Romanov - The 6'3" 17 year old Russian has been sensational putting up 35 points in 23 games for the Blazers. Romanov also leads the team in penalty minutes with 77.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: RD Dylan Lamontagne
- The gritty 19 year old from Saskatchewan has played big minutes in all situations for the Blazers and has been rock solid. Lamontagne anchors a young d-core and has done a good job shutting down the opposition's t!op forwards. Has has also chipped in 3 goals and 11 assists and 28 PIMS.
Players to watch in 2015
C Petr Kobes - Has arguably been the Blazers most consistent forward leading the team in points. Kobes and winger Dominik Vlk have played well together since they arrived in October.! Look for Kobes and Vlk to dominate in the new year.
RW Hunter Smith - The Blazers captain is on the brink of breaking out in the new year. Smith battled an injury and a 5 game suspension in the first half of the season. He is too much for his opponents to handle when he is going and will look to lead the charge for the team heading into the postseason.
G Jakub Krejci - Head coach Tyler Fleck will lean heavily on the veteran goaltender in the second half. If the Blazers want to have an honest chance at a title great goaltending will be key.
D Lubos Vacek - The big 19 year old Czech can change games for the Blazers but he has been battling injury the last month. With some needed rest now and a healthy return to the l!ineup, Vacek could be the top defenceman in the WSHL.
Newest Blazer in the Lineup
RW Victor Ekk - The 17 year old Russian joined the team in Las Vegas for the Showdown. A slick highly skilled winger that can do it all will be relied on in the new year. Ekk comes over from the Springfield Jr Blues of the North American Hockey League. He will be wearing #88 for the B's.
The Blazers return from the break on January 5th and host Tulsa on the 10th and 17th. Oklahoma City returns to Tulsa on the 11th and 18th for the return trips of the back to back weekend home and homes with the turnpike rivals. Game time at the Blazers Ice Center for those games is 5:00PM CST.
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