Jason Christie Prepares for Second Oilers Season

GTR Sports Writer

HEAD COACH JASON CHRISTIE: Bringing heat to the ice.

Tulsa coach Jason Christie is sweating it out as he prepares for his second season with the Oilers.

“It’s hot, eh?’’ says Christie, a 47-year-old Canadian. “It’s been hot this whole month. I spent the last four years with a dry heat in California, but coming here it’s really humid. The humidity down here is worse than the six years I spent in Illinois.
“This is one of the hottest places I’ve been to.’’

After finishing one point out of the playoffs a year ago in Christie’s maiden voyage, the Oilers open training camp on Oct. 3 in preparation for what could be a banner season. Christie came to town a year ago with little time to recruit. After building his team from the ground up over a long, hot summer, expectations now call for the veteran coach to match his glowing credentials.

Christie became the ECHL’s all-time winningest coach last season and arrived in Tulsa with 40 victories in eight of 13 seasons as a head coach. He had made the playoffs in 11 of those 13 campaigns and has compiled a 557-334-110 career record. Such impressive marks lead to high hopes for Oilers fans.

“This is the crazy time of year, and that makes it fun,’’ Christie says of his recruiting efforts. “We have a good corps of guys coming back, and we’re in kind of a building process.

“Last year we were right in the thick of things and were battling for second place, six points out of first, but we lost a lot of players at the end of the year. We lost nine toward the end, but that’s why they are at this level. We’re here to develop players and they all want to go up. You can’t stop a kid from going up.’’

The Oilers appeared to be on the threshold of clinching a playoff spot when the Winnipeg Jets, their affiliate, raided their roster and gutted much of the offense. Emerson Clark was leading the team in scoring when he was called up by the Chicago Wolves of the and finished his season there. Clark is still with the Wolves heading into camp, but Christie wants him back if he doesn’t stick there.

“It was a big blow losing him to the Wolves last year,’’ says Christie. “It was an unusual situation (with the Winnipeg organization) because of their injury situation. They usually don’t have that many, and it was weird. It was only the second time it’s happened to me in my coaching career.’’

Christie says he doesn’t blame the system for draining his best offensive players. It’s simply the nature of the beast.

“Every kid has a different avenue in their careers and some have to start in the ,’’ he says. “Last season, I had four goalies on opening-day rosters who played for me. That’s how close it is. It’s like baseball. Some kids have to go the extra mile to prove they can play. It’s not fair to a kid to come down here and work his tail off and not get rewarded. It’s like any business. Everybody wants to move up.’’

Sometimes they return. Dan DeSalvo finished last year as the Oilers’ leading scorer and has already signed for the 2016-17 season. Dennis Brown, the team defensive a year ago, has also inked along with rookie Ben Murphy. Other signees had not been announced as of mid-August.

DeSalvo collected 16 goals and 35 assists and made the All- Rookie Team before being called up by the Manitoba Moose on March 9. Brown amassed 35 points, 17th in the league among D-men, while Murphy joined the Oilers for the final 10 games of the season.

“Danny had a great year and Dennis had a breakout year for himself,’’ Christie says. “They are two folks we wanted to come back and build around. DeSalvo never wants to be outworked, and he’s relentless and full of energy. He knows where he is on the ice, and his determination puts him over the top.

“Brown is a skilled player with a good head on his shoulders for the game. He sees the rink well, and he’s a guy who absorbs things when you talk to him. He wants to get better every day. Murphy scored some big goals at the end of the year and can shoot the puck well. It was a good summer for him in getting quicker and quicker at the pro level.’’

With the Oilers retaining his rights, goalie Kevin Carr is also expected back in camp, but Christie says Winnipeg is sending the team a goalie to inspect. Carr has been the mainstay between the pipes for Tulsa the last two seasons. In 97 games played, Carr has a 51-37-6 record with 2,483 saves in 5,631 minutes and a .912 save percentage.

Christie inherited Carr after he was announced as the Oilers’ 11th head coach on July 23, 2015. He told a source that arriving so late in the recruiting process did hinder his preparation for the season. He says the team was a young one, but he didn’t complain about the club’s production on ice. This time, familiar faces should dot his roster.

“With the players we’ve got coming back this year, it’s exciting for me. I’ve gotten to know a little bit of their identity and that makes it easier with a year under our belt,’’ Christie says. “Our goal is getting better every day, from our organization on down. We want to be the elite organization in the league. We don’t want to get stale.
“Starting late last year doesn’t matter to me. I’ve done it before and made the playoffs. There are no excuses in hockey.’’

If the Oilers do reach postseason play in 2016-17, they will take a different route than last year. The has realigned its divisions ,and Tulsa will play in the Central Division along with Kalamazoo, Toledo. Fort Wayne, Quad City, Indianapolis and Wichita. Gone are long-time nemeses Allen and Missouri.

“I think we’ve a good balance in the league. Geez, it wasn’t like we couldn’t beat them,’’ Christie says of Allen and Missouri. “We didn’t have a problem with them, and we played them a ton.

“We’ll just keep recruiting and see what guys are on the short list of American League teams. We’ll see what guys aren’t going to make it. I thought we had a good season last year until the end. We are by all means not satisfied with just making the playoffs.

“We like winning hockey games and losing doesn’t sit well. We don’t take it lightly. For sure, we expect bigger and better things.’’

In any event, the heat is still on for Christie and his Oilers when the season opens on Oct. 15.

Updated 08-29-2016

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