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Greater Tulsa Reporter


Tulsa Oilers Hope for Strong 2018-19 Season

By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer

MAN IN CHARGE: Tulsa Oilers Head Coach Rob Murray looks forward his second year to guide the St. Louis Blues-affiliated ice hockey team.


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 There seems to be an unwelcome trend developing for the Tulsa Oilers. In recent seasons the ECHL team has started fast, gone into a mid-year slump and then fought like crazy to reach the playoffs, only to come up one or two points short.

 Entering his second season as head coach of the Oilers, Rob Murray declares the outcome should be different in 2018-19. With a full year to recruit, coupled with familiar faces returning and a strong crop of newcomers, Murray has a definite scenario in mind.

 “I don’t see any reason why we should not be considered a playoff team,’’ Murray said. “But it’s like the old adage, we look good on paper and now it’s up to us to go out and prove it. Making the playoffs is our main objective. I won’t say we will win the championship, but we want to make the playoffs.’’

 Tulsa has not reached postseason since the 2014-15 season, failing to qualify by one point in 2015-16 and by two last year. Coming close again won’t suffice for many fans, the team must pull the trigger this time. With a full year to recruit after arriving in June of 2017, Murray and his team seem to have a new attitude toward success.

 “When I took over last year, I wasn’t familiar with these guys. Now I know what to expect and I can plan ahead,’’ said Murray. “Last year we were ahead in both wins and points from the previous year and that was a step forward, but I can’t make excuses. We didn’t make the playoffs and unfortunately, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

 “Now we’re a little further ahead right off the hop. We have eight home games to start the season and that should be an advantage. Of course it’s easy to look at it and say it’s an advantage. It obviously depends on having a fast start.’’

 When the season kicks off on Oct. 13 at the BOK Center, Murray is planning on having a balance between veterans and newcomers. Chief among the help arriving is old friend and new assistant coach Peter Sivak. The 36-year-old played for Murray in Alaska and he‘s joining his seventh ECHL team.     

  “I’m excited about having Sivak here. His work ethic is beyond reproach,’’ Murray said. “I like his enthusiasm and excitement to play the game on a daily basis and he’s a proficient scorer at our level. I had him on my team when we won the Kelly Cup and he was the leading scorer.’’

 With 374 points, Sivak is second only to Chad Costello on the ECHL list over the last six seasons. He scored 61 points for Rapid City last season, tied for 20th in the league with Tulsa’s Charlie Sampair.

 “Sivak and I have a great relationship. He knows the language of hockey and he will be one of our veterans,’’ Murray said. “Chris Francis is another veteran who played for me in Alaska and has the potential to score 20 goals every season. Adam Pleskach and Steven Kaunisto are our other vets. Stephen Perfetto played for me two years ago in Alaska, but these guys are not here just because they played for me. They’ve had great success.’’

  Perfetto played 11 games for the Oilers in 2014-15 and scored 66 points for Alaska in 2016-17. Entering his ninth pro season, Francis had 62 points for the Aces in 2014-15. Pleskach, Tulsa’s returning team captain, piled up 52 points last year to finish second behind Sampair. Both Perfetto and Sampair tried out with the AHL San Antonio Rampage this fall.

 Other returning Oilers include goalie Devin Williams, defensemen Mike McKee, Eric Drapluk, Kyle Rhodes and forwards Ryan Tesink, Sam Wilbur and Roman Ammirato. Chris Joyaux and Evan Richardson go to England while defenseman Dennis Brown and forward Dylan Hubbs retired. Alexandre Ranger was traded to Orlando and Garrett Ladd to Fort Wayne.

 The goalie position proved inconsistent last year along with special teams play. The Oilers finished at 12.9 percent on the power play, second worst in the league. Murray said not to worry about either situation.

 “I believe both of our goalies were good last year. Devin had a decent season (10th in ECHL with a 2.54 GAA) and we will get a contracted goalie from the St. Louis Blues,’’ Murray said. “Devin is going to the San Antonio camp as a second-year player, but paired with the rookie we’re getting from St. Louis, we’ll be fine.

 “I’d like to focus more on special teams. I think we need to speed up our power play. If you’re getting goals, it goes a long way to winning games. Our PK wasn’t horrible (84.2 percent) but it could be better. Our special teams in general need more work. We tweaked our system late last season and it led to our run. We changed up our neutral zone play and we will incorporate that right off the bat this season. We need to be more consistent in that area.’’

  Murray counted the goal-scoring of Sampair, Ladd and Pleskach as the Oilers’ offensive strength last season. Each scored more than 20 goals and Tulsa finished No. 1 in the ECHL in shots per game. This year Murray wants the shots and points spread out more.

 “We need more balance,’’ he said. “Defensively, we need to cut down on shots against us. We won three Brabham Cups in Alaska allowing just 24 shots a game and last year we allowed over 30 (33.36). Cutting down on shots against will help us reach our main objective – making the playoffs.’’

  Murray is simply banking on everything falling into place. If it does, there should be no more of these narrow misses in making the playoffs. Tulsa will be in postseason with a chance to turn what’s on paper into reality.

Updated 10-16-2018

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