TULSA, OK—Well, that’s that.
For the Tulsa Oilers, the 2016-17 ECHL Regular Season is at its end and with a sadly familiar truth: no playoffs for the second straight season.
A season that began with the optimism that all hockey clubs have of more wins than losses, a breeze through the post season and a successful finals run ended with an ironic 5-1 loss the their oldest rival, the Wichita Thunder, and the disappointment of no more hockey until the fall for the Oilers nation, which is sadly not that unfamiliar a thing for Tulsa fans.
It was close for roughly two periods, then it all unraveled for Tulsa at the end. After a shorthanded goal in the first period by Louick Marcotte, Garrett Ladd wound up scoring what would be the final goal of the season for the Oilers, lifting a backhander over Thunder netminder Drew Owsley five minutes into the second period.
It tied the game for about four minutes, and then it was all Wichita.
The Thunder regained the lead four minutes later, when Blake Tatchell snuck behind the defense and beat Oilers goaltender Jonah Imoo to give the Thunder a 2-1 advantage heading into the final period.
The Thunder added a second short-handed goal late in the third period when Gerrad Grant scored on a breakaway. Wichita then scored two empty-net goals in the final minutes of play.
The final horn mercifully sounded and the 25th consecutive year of professional hockey in Tulsa came to a close with the Oilers grinding to their 37th regulation loss of the season. The final numbers for the team being a record of 27-37-6-2 worth 62 points and a 5th place finish in the ECHL Central Division.
It was a merciful end to a season that had at one time seen the Oilers in a dogfight with the Toledo Walleye for the Conference lead with first a 6-0 start that stretched into a 10-2 lead, the team’s best open to a season since 2002-03 in the Central Hockey League.
Key departures to the Manitoba Moose, the first being forward Dan DeSalvo at the end of November and goaltender Jamie Phillips around the ECHL All-Star Break, contributed to the slow spiral into the basement, along with brutal road trips that saw the Oilers away from home for nearly two full months after Christmas.
Jason Christie was reflective of these facts and more in his final postgame comments at the end of his second season as Tulsa head coach.
“It was a tough grind,” Oilers coach Jason Christie said. “You really see the character in the guys. Some guys just want to get through it.
“We are young. We lost a lot of man games this year. You just hope those young guys understand that every day is a battle, how important each and every game is.
“We had a good start. But it got too hard for some guys. We lost some guys two months into the season, and it was too hard for the other guys to pick up the slack. Not skill-wise, but just work every day-wise. We lost the will to win every game.
“It could be a double-edge sword when you have a good start and they start taking shortcuts. When you lose the core of your team, you need some guys to really step up. That is why depth is so important.”
Phillips getting the call in Manitoba was the final backbreaker.
“That did hurt and it may be my fault for not having two quality goalies,” Christie said. “But you still have to get through five guys and we have to make sure we continue to work and grow.”
“It makes you sick to your stomach. They were just snake-bit.”
A recruiting summer lies ahead for Christie, and come October, the Tulsa Oilers will give it another try.