By GLENN HIBDON
DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
Another team, another coach, another season, another chance. Once again the Tulsa Oilers have experienced wholesale change. Only this time it appears to be for the better.
Jake Riddle Live Interview
A hot start to the Central Hockey League campaign has given team owner Jeff Lund, new coach Bruce Ramsey and all the fans a reason for hope, something that has been lacking in recent years. The Oilers have not won four of their first six games since the 2005-06 season and as of this writing stand undefeated (6-0) at home for the first time since 2003-04.
“I was trying to remember the last time we were up 4-0 at home and won 4-0,’’ comments Lund, referring to Tulsa’s shutout of Allen, Texas, on Nov. 3. “Some long-time season ticket holders didn’t renew this year because they wanted to wait and see what kind of team we have. I personally called one long-time season ticket holder and invited him to come in and talk. I told him to wait five games and if he wasn’t satisfied with our team, I would give him a refund.’’
Through the first six games, no refunds were required. The Oilers stand first in the Northern Conference standings behind league-leading scorer Rob Hisey. Lund and his team have their eyes on the first winning season since 2007 and the first playoff appearance since 2005.
“It’s the coach,’’ Lund says proudly, pointing to the cornerstone of improvement. “We have character and chemistry in the locker room now. He (Ramsey) has had experience winning outside of this league and he knows how to recruit. You can’t coach character and chemistry.”
“It (losing) has been frustrating to me, the team and the fans. We hope fans will see and hear about how well we are playing and come back.’’
Lund said better play on the ice has resulted in fan appreciation. He noted how well the team is passing the puck and stick handling, fundamentals of the game that have been lacking in recent seasons. He praised the play of Hisey and goalie Kevin Armstrong.
“Our goaltending has been great and our players wanted to help him get a shutout (against Allen),’’ adds Lund. “And Hisey is unbelievable. Wow! He can take the puck the length of the ice and score on a wraparound. But we’ve got to keep going. We can’t rest now because this league has so much parity.’’
Ramsey has virtually rebuilt his team from the ground up. Only forwards Mike Beausoleil and Jake Riddle have returned from a year ago. Somehow, Ramsey made a seamless transition in forming a winning team, something other coaches failed to do.
“You can be the best coach in the world and if your players don’t execute, you won’t be successful,’’ shares Ramsey. “Recruiting is a huge, huge part of putting a team together and this year I had to build a whole new team. I started this job as soon as last season was over. This is the hardest I’ve ever had to work in putting a team together.
“Our system is in place and the big thing is execution. If they (his players) are not buying into what I teach, then we will disappoint each other. We won’t make the passes and we won’t be successful. We’re pretty fundamentally sound and we have depth in all areas. Our strength is our depth and we have guys willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.’’
The primary questions for fans are “will the Oilers reach the playoffs and once they do, will they win?’” Tulsa had not succeeded in a playoff series since 1993-94.
“The postseason is our goal,’’ Ramsey claims. “I don’t want to be a .500 coach and I guarantee that our players don’t want to be a .500 team. There is a lot of self-motivation on our team and they are willing to do what it takes. You have to have the players who are committed to playing hard for each other each night and I’m confident in our team.’’
To hear an interview with Jake Riddle about this season’s team, go to www.gtrnews.com.
The Bruisers are off to a great start. To get your tickets, go to www.tulsaoilers.com.