TULSA, OK — For two teams playing for pride, you really couldn’t have asked for a better ending to Saturday night’s regular-season finale at BOK Center. For the Tulsa Oilers, it was not only the end of a season, but an end to a career for their Captain.
After battling to a 1-1 stalemate in regulation time with their oldest and deepest rival, the Oilers defeated the Wichita Thunder 2-1 in overtime to close out the 2015-16 ECHL regular season Saturday night. Tulsa’s final goal of the season came on a 2-on-1 breakaway in the extra session in which a Thunder error helped Phil Brewer slam home the game winner.
The key element to the game-winning breakaway wasn’t exactly involved in the play. On the previous rush Oilers captain Nathan Lutz broke his stick attempting a slap shot from near the blue line in the Wichita zone. The puck never got the full velocity of Lutz’s swing and it was easily handled by Thunder goalie David Shantz.
On the ensuing play, a Thunder defender tripped over Lutz’s discarded lumber at the Thunder line, causing a turnover. The 2-on-1 became a two-on-none, and the tic-tac-toe passing play resulted in the Brewer game winner.
Ben Murphy opened the scoring for Tulsa just two minutes into the first period, and Christian Isackson knotted the score for Wichita 14 minutes later. After that it was classic Oilers -v- Thunder: Fast, physical and furious.
The only scary moment of the game was when Oilers defenseman Dennis Brown went down on a rush and had to be assisted to the bench in the game’s final minutes. There is no official word on his injury but it appeared to be a possible lower body injury.
Lutz’s involvement in the final play of the Tulsa Oilers season was fitting because the 38-year-old team captain was playing in his final professional hockey game. Lutz cleared the 900-game plateau on the road in Utah on March 26th and played 907 altogether when the game ended on Saturday. His plans are to return home to Canada and focus on family and farming.
During the pandemonium after the game Saturday, Lutz was hoisted on his shoulders by his teammates and accepted congratulations from both teams.
The win on Saturday was, of course, the final win for Tulsa as they would not be continuing on to the Kelly Cup Playoffs. This season marks the first time the Oilers would miss the post season since the 2013 season in the Central Hockey League and only the first time, (by attrition) in the ECHL. Quad City defeated Cincinnati on Friday to ensure their spot. The Mallards margin over the Oilers for the eighth spot was just one point.
As has been documented here numerous times, the Tulsa club appeared to have a good momentum built in February as they had risen to the sixth playoff spot at the height of their winning but a few trades at the NHL (Jets) level, call ups of contracted players to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and a few season ending injuries were too much for head coach Jason Christie’s Oilers team to overcome by season’s finale.
Despite that, the Oilers posted their third 30+ win season in a row and finished third in a very tough ECHL Central Division, posting a winning record over last season’s defending Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans and a 6-5-2 winning record (not counting overtime and shootout solutions) over the Missouri Mavericks. Season’s end saw Phil Brewer finish 3rd in the ECHL in goals with 24 and tied for first in game winners. Kevin Carr had another excellent season finishing 13th among ECHL goalies with a 2.39 goals-against average.
The most successful non-contracted player on the Oilers roster this season was Dan DeSalvo, who signed a professional tryout contract with the Manitoba Moose in late March. As an Oiler, DeSalvo threw in 16 goals and added 35 assists for 51 points, and after he joined the Moose, he scored a point in his first appearance and went on to play 10 more games in the AHL, scoring for goals and adding seven more assists.
Finally, it was a good year to be an Oilers fan. Buoyed by the addition of a proven head coach and an affiliation with the American Hockey League, the Oilers attendance jumped to an average of over 6,000 fans per game, with nearly 220,000 fans crossing the BOK Center turnstiles in 2015-16. That mark included the second largest crowd to see a hockey game in BOK Center history back on March 18, which was a 3-2 win over this season’s ECHL Brabham Cup champion Missouri Mavericks.
Next season the Oilers will begin their 24th continuous season of professional operation since returning to the ice in 1992 in the Central Hockey League.
Jason Christie will return for his second season as the Oilers head coach and it is expected that the relationship in Manitoba with the Moose and the Jets will continue.