Despite Challenges, Oilers Had Strong Season

GTR Sports Writer

YOUNG GUNS: Despite having one of the youngest teams in the CHL, the Oilers always skated strong lines.

HARRY LENTZ for GTR Newspapers

Despite experiencing a disappointing 2011-12 season, the Tulsa Oilers enjoyed an asset that other teams did not. They had the best group of rookies in the Central Hockey League.

Mike Ullrich is a finalist for the CHL’s Rookie of the Year, Jeff Terminesi was selected to the All-Star team while Dylan Clarke, Ryan Cramer and David Solway join Ullrich and Terminesi in the top 12 among the league’s leading rookie scorers. Defenseman Jay Sprague and goalie Steve Christie round out the Oilers’ current neophyte roster.
At one point this season the Oilers were playing nine first-year players, or 14 percent of the entire rookie class. For the second straight year, the team relied on players fresh out of college and for the second straight year they were the backbone of the franchise. It all comes down to coach Bruce Ramsay and his recruiting and player development.

“It’s about doing your diligence, and you start in the summer,’’ Ramsay said of his recruiting process. “We had a good year last year and it helps that I’ve been coaching a long time. We had a lot of players called up (to the and ) and that breeds confidence in coaches and agents. Guys know that if they come here, they won’t be stuck behind a lot of veteran players’’

While using his contacts with many agents and coaches in the hockey world, Ramsay also relies on his own players spreading the word. And sometimes he finds a diamond in the rough, a player overlooked by mainstream recruiters.

“Dylan Clarke came out of a Division school and those players might come here and do extremely well,’’ says Ramsay. “I want them to come here and play with confidence. I don’t want them to be scared to express their freedom. Skilled hockey players put out offensive numbers, and it’s almost like a gift from God. These players have that ability.”

Ramsay says he’s impressed with his entire crop of newcomers and was planning on adding more recent college players before the end of the season. Here is his synopsis on the seven rookies on the roster through mid-March:
Clarke: “He’s very tenacious and never gives up on the puck. He’s big and skates well. He has a good shot, good skill set and finishes checks. He attacks the puck very well and his puck possession is extremely impressive.’’

Clarke was third in rookie scoring through mid-March and was second in power play assists.

Ullrich: “He’s a big, strong kid that has breakaway speed. He has a very good shot and he’s deadly off the rush. He has the knack of taking the puck to the net, and he looks like the best rookie in the league.’’

Ullrich was second in rookie scoring through mid-March. He was No. 1 in goals and in shooting percentage and tied with Clarke for No. 1 in power play goals.

Cramer: “He’s a big, strong power forward and has the hardest shot on our club. It’s basically an shot. He’s good on the penalty kill and plays solid, physical hockey. He’s capable of putting fear into the opposition.’’

Cramer is 12th in rookie scoring with 35 points.

Terminesi: He’s a highly skilled defenseman, and his strength is on the power play. He’s creative with the puck and has a knack in the offensive zone of getting the puck on net. He’s going through growing pains, but, with a year under his belt, the sky’s the limit’.’

Terminesi is 11th in rookie scoring with 36 points and leads in power play assists with 16.

Solway: He’s an aggressive player who is very good down low in the offensive zone. He has a lot of good hockey sense and he’s played much better since he’s moved to the center position. We haven’t come close to seeing the best of David Solway.’’
Solway is 10th in rookie scoring with 37 points and tied for second in game-winning goals.

Sprague: “He’s a very smooth player with good size who skates well. He has offensive ability, but, since we’ve moved him to defense, he’s shown great versatility. Defense is a position he’s never played before, but he looks like he belongs back there.’’

Sprague is second in rookie shooting percentage at .157.

Christie: “He has been a great pick up for us. He was put in a bad situation when (Mike) Garman went to Europe, but he’s come in and played hard. He’s done the job. His numbers are good but not nearly as good as what they could be. He’s given up a lot of goals that were not his fault. You couldn’t ask for anything more from a backup goalie.’’

After losing rookie scoring aces Jack Combs and Chad Costello to the this year, Ramsay has another solid group of first-year pros. The burning question is will they return for the 2012-2013 season? In the past, rookies have gone to teams with deeper pockets. The coach hopes this time a corps group will choose to remain in Tulsa.

“We lost some of our elite players last year,’’ says Ramsay. “These players come here and turn into very good pro hockey players and we have to go by loyalty and their opportunity to be in Tulsa. The fans are great and so is the city. We have a great corps of players and we want to keep our young talent here We want to put ourselves in position to compete with the elite teams in our league.

“They (rookies) can take pride in what they’ve accomplished here and get noticed by other clubs. Of course, losing players is part of the business, and we have to accept it. They move on and sometimes it’s frustrating, but nothing would make me happier than having Combs and Costello in our lineup right now.’’

Updated 03-26-2012

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