Hockey Fan Preserves Oilers History

GTR Sports Writer

ICE OILERS HISTORIAN: Tim Pannell displays part of his collection before a recent Tulsa Oilers hockey game at the BOK Center.

GTR Newspapers photo

There are Tulsa Oilers souvenirs everywhere, decorating Tim Pannell’s home in Broken Arrow. Of course he has jerseys, programs, photos and scrapbooks. Then his collection is topped off with one of a kinds, including the Sam Avery Trophy, inscribed with the name of each season’s Oilers through the early 1980s.

  As Tulsa celebrates its 90th anniversary of professional hockey, Pannell has been amassing memorabilia galore over half that span.

 “Back in 1971, my uncle Leon Pannell was a season ticket holder. He asked me if I wanted to go to a hockey game and I was hooked,’’ said Tim, who was seven years old. ”I liked the fights and the fast pace of the whole thing, the skating and hitting. I got my first Oilers puck, my first collectible, that season and I started buying programs and saving them. We would go early to the games to watch warmups and someone would give me a puck almost every game.’’

 Now 54, Pannell frequently displays his hockey treasures during Oilers games in the Center. That first season in the Convention Center, Pannell fell in love with hockey and he and his favorite team have come a long way since, both on and off the ice.

 “I played hockey in the (Tulsa Hockey League) when I was 12,’’ said Pannell, a refuge and recycling  inspector for the City of Tulsa. “When it would snow, we would go out and play in the street. We used Pepsi Oilers hockey sticks that were given away to kids at games and the pucks I collected. Some of them would go down the drain and there was no getting them back. I lost a ton of pucks.’’

 Pannell and his fellow Oilers fans have seen their favorite franchise win many times over its 90-year history, including six league championships. It all started on Jan. 1, 1929, when the team played its first home game, marking the opening of the Tulsa Coliseum. The Oilers won their first title that season in the American Hockey Association and again two seasons later.

 The became the United States Hockey League in 1945-46 before disbanding in 1951. In 1964 the Central Hockey League was formed and the Oilers won titles in 1968, 1976, 1984 and 1993. Tulsa joined the in 2013-14 as Pannell’s collection continued to grow.

 “I got a signed Gordie Howe stick and the Jolly Green Giants book that Hal O’Halloran put out after the 1976 championship,’’ Pannell said. “I got the Sam Avery Trophy when a guy was auctioning off Oilers stuff in 1984. I’ve got a program from when Tulsa played the Omaha Knights at the old coliseum in 1945-46, Tony Martino’s goalie pads, Dave Barr’s helmet from 1982-83 and Mike Berger’s stick.’’

 Pannell said his favorites players are Jim Wiley and Andy Champagne. Both players coached him in the and he played with their sons. Pannell said he has four or five scrapbooks from the 1940s and early 1970s, filled with articles from the Tulsa World and Tulsa Tribune.

 “I would like to have a jersey from the 1928-29 season, but I don’t know if there is one out there,’’ Pannell said. “A guy on e-bay has a wool letterman jacket from 1928-29 that he wants $12,500 for. He bought it from some estate and it’s been out there (for sale) four or five years. I would also like to have a program from the first year. The Tulsa Historical Society may have one.’’

 While suitable collectibles have changed over the seasons, so has the game itself. Pannell still appreciates the “good old days’’ when hockey was rough and teeth were few.

“Players seemed bigger back then,’’ said Pannell. “A guy who was 6-3 was big then and now guys 6-7 or 6-8 are common. Back then there was more fighting and now the game has gotten faster with more finesse. There used to be a lot of goons. Even in 1992-93 it (the ) was like a goon league. I guess there are a few guys still around who are like goons.’’

 Today Pannell mourns the lack of fighting, but fondly recalls the routine of attending Oilers games. He would look forward to getting home from school and doing his chores so his parents would allow him to go to the Convention Center.

 “We would pop popcorn to take to every game. We could take our own because it was allowed back then,’’ Pannell said. “I would get a puck and buy a program. I remember 10 cent beer night, 10 cent hot dog night and playing Oklahoma City because there were always fights. In the 70s our fans threw beer over the glass on the Oklahoma City players and they attacked the stands.’’    

 Fun times, indeed. But there were other more rewarding moments for Pannell and Oilers fans.

 “When we won the championship in 1976 and 1993 I was excited,’’ said Pannell. “But I was sick to my stomach when we lost hockey in 1984. I was so disappointed. I thought ‘what are we going to do? Is it ever going to come back? ’’’

 To fill the void until the Oilers did return eight years later, Pannell and his friends found a way to survive – and thrive.

 “We kept a group of guys together all those years,’’ he said. “ We went to Oklahoma City and played pickup games. We had nowhere to practice, but we still played games in Oklahoma City and Arkansas. I remember reading in the Tulsa Tribune (in 1992) that hockey was coming back and I knew I was going to buy season tickets. The game was more family friendly than the old days.

 “I remember being at the final game of the 1993 playoffs in Oklahoma City when we won the championship. I made my way down to the locker room and (Mike) Berger came out and took me in while the team celebrated. Tony Fiore signed his stick for me, the one he used to score the winning goal.’’

 The Oilers come and the Oilers go, but Pannell’s love of the team remains constant. He will always have faith in its rebirth and success. After all, he has the premiere Oilers collection to prove it.

Updated 01-17-2019

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