Former Oiler Tom Karalis Proud to be U.S. Citizen

GTR Sports Writer

AMERICAN ASPIRATIONS: Former Tulsa Oiler Tom Karalis, a Montreal native, smiles with his children Jack and Sophia after being sworn in as a U.S. citizen on May 13. During Karalis’ career, he played in Europe and the American Hockey League before retiring from hockey in 1999. Pictured at left is Karalis during the Oilers’ 1993-94 season. The ceremony was held at Tulsa’s First United Methodist Church during a Rotary Club of Tulsa meeting.

There is a memory of fiery Tulsa Oilers defenseman Tom Karalis that stands out after all these years. Following the Oilers’ victory over Oklahoma City in game two of the 1993 Central Hockey League championship series, Karalis and his teammates were making their way through the open tunnel toward The Myriad locker room.

Rabid Blazers fans were pelting the team with trash and hostile verbiage. Police officers were trying to usher the Oilers through the melee, while Karalis, never the shrinking violet, paused to share a few pleasantries with the Blazers followers. All of a sudden a cop screamed, “You’re under arrest,” and grabbed Karalis, shoving his arm behind his back before leading him away.

The incident is a perfect display of the Montreal native’s passion for the game, his love of the Oilers and his pride in competing for Tulsa. After 22 years, the 51-year-old tough guy still displays biceps of stone and remains unchanged in his allegiances. Only now, you can add “United States citizen” to his list of accomplishments.

On May 13, Karalis took the citizenship oath at Tulsa’s First United Methodist Church during a Rotary Club of Tulsa meeting, and became the first Oiler in recent memory to do so. For the two-time All- performer, the moment ranks, with winning the 1993 title over the Blazers, as the greatest of his life.

“I love Canada. My mother and sisters still live there,’’ says Karalis, who enjoyed a 13-year pro career with 17 teams in seven leagues. “But I feel American. I’ve lived here 30 years, and this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m very proud that I did.’’

In gaining full-fledged American status, Karalis had to renounce his Canadian citizenship since the United States does not recognize dual ties. The entire citizenship process required two years to complete and a number of steps before it was finished.

“The first step was my green card, which I already had, and I went to a website to fill out paperwork,’’ Karalis says. “Then they took a picture of me for a background check. It all cost about $695.

“I was then sent to four meetings. The first one was for instructions and to see if I was really who I said I am. The second one, they took my fingerprints and then I took a citizenship test. There were 10 questions, and I had to get six right to pass.’’

The first question required Karalis to print the word “constitution’’ to see if he could write in English. The questions followed: Name two states that border Mexico, what do the stripes signify on the American flag, what political party does the president belong to, and name a senator from Oklahoma. Karalis knew he wouldn’t fail, and the examiner ended the test early.

The next step was being sworn in on May 13; Karalis was the only Canadian among 90 seeking citizenship.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t cry when they called my name,’’ says Karalis, whose children were present to see him swear allegiance to the United States. “I was really emotional, and it was very hard not to cry when I went up there and took the oath. I was very proud of that moment. The Mayor was there, and my kids were ecstatic. Becoming a citizen was a no-brainer, and my mother asked me what took so long.’’

Karalis followed in the footsteps of his friend Yves Heroux whom he had played with in Europe and the American Hockey League. Karalis’ journey to citizenship began after playing parts of three seasons with the Oilers, a tenure that saw the 6-1, 210-pounder suit up 145 games en route to 93 points and 578 penalty minutes. His best pro season came in 1992-93 when Tulsa won the title.

After retiring from hockey in 1999, Karalis married and had three children, Jack (12), Ellie (10) and Sophia (9). He lives in Bixby and works for , Inc., in Broken Arrow, a firm that consults with rural telephone companies in managing their businesses.

“I always liked the state, the city and the culture. The people here were wonderful to me,’’ says Karalis, who has coached high school hockey at Broken Arrow and then Union schools the last eight years. “I fell in love with the country, and after I left hockey, I always planned to come back here and stay.’’

Already having earned a degree in communications, Karalis quickly found a job. His ex-father-in-law bought a Corvette from Marc Stone, a huge Oilers fan. Stone told Karalis that he was his wife’s favorite player, and the conversation led to Karalis revealing he had a communications degree. Stone told him to come to his office the next day, and the rest is history. Karalis is now one of four owners and has been with the company 16 years.

The pugnacious defenseman is one of a handful of ex-Oilers who still call Tulsa home, including Doug Lawrence, Sly Naud, Chris Simms, Troy Caley, Doug Pirnak, Klage Kaebel and Curtis Voth.

Karalis still keeps in close contact with Taylor Hall, the Oilers general manager, who played with him on that 1993 title team, but he has little time to follow the franchise in person at the Center. Between work and coaching his high school team, he’s also tutoring the baseball and football aspirations of his son Jack.

Until that day, Dad will continue on his American Dream, culminating when he votes in his first election. A conservative all the way, Karalis is looking forward to the 2016 presidential election.

“The Fourth of July had a special meaning for me. It was the first time in 50 years I could celebrate being an American,’’ Karalis says. “It feels great being an American. It really does.’’

Karalis may have been irascible on the ice, but he is a solid citizen on dry land. He was never arrested by the Oklahoma City police following that emotional playoff victory in 1993. The cop realized he overreacted and let him go.

Today, Karalis is still rooting for the team, and fans, who so dramatically changed his life.

“Tulsa is still waiting for another championship,’’ he sighs. “I hope it works out for them.’’

Updated 07-28-2015

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