TULSA, Okla. – The Tulsa Oilers are having their best season since winning a Central Hockey League championship in 1993, and while the team does not have many flashy players on the roster, one thing it does have is consistency.
Throughout the roster, you see 15 players who have suited up in 50 or more games for the Oilers this season. Leading them is the epitome of consistency for the Oilers franchise, team captain Adam Pleskach, who along with rookie defenseman Dylan Bredo, suited up for every Oilers game during the regular season. It’s the second straight year Pleskach has accomplished that feat.
For the veteran forward, the model of consistency began years ago on the Canadian Prairie, in the small town of Beausejour, Manitoba, roughly 30 miles northeast of Winnipeg. It was there where he and his three older brothers worked on the family farm raising cattle and harvesting grain.
“We had a blue-collar family growing up,” Pleskach said. “You had to learn how to do things the hard way and it paid off. we credit our character to our parents.”
When he wasn’t on the farm helping out the family business, Adam was at the hockey rink, perfecting his craft. His hockey career began when he suited up with the Selkirk Steelers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League during the 2006-07 season. In a three-year run, he piled up 133 goals, 149 assists and 282 points in 187 career games; led the Steelers to their second Turnball Memorial Trophy championship in four years; and was named to the league’s second all-star team in back-to-back years (2007-08 and 2008-09.)
From there, the journey brought him to the United States, where he attended American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. As was the case in Manitoba, the accolades continued to pile up. He was named to the Atlantic Hockey Association’s all-rookie team in 2010, was named to the second all-Atlantic Hockey team in 2013, and the third team in 2012. During his four-year collegiate career, he piled up 59 goals and chipped in 55 assists for 114 points in 138 games played.
But what hockey career isn’t complete without a little adversity?
Pleskach faced some of those headwinds the summer after he turned pro. After a 10-game stint with the ECHL’s Evansville Icemen, Pleskach was not re-signed for the 2013-14 season. Tryouts with a team in the American Hockey League, and the Greenville Road Warriors (now called Swamp Rabbits) didn’t pan out. The road ultimately led and ended in Tulsa, where then-Oilers head coach Bruce Ramsay gave Pleskach his shot, and the 30-year-old hasn’t left since.
“[Ramsay] brought me in and gave me a chance when I didn’t have anywhere else to go and he let me do my thing in a good way,” Pleskach said.
The move to bring in the rookie forward paid immediate dividends for the Oilers. That year, he played with talented forwards such as Michel Beausoleil, Todd Robinson, and Ben Gordon, part of a group many considered to be one of the deepest in the Central Hockey League (CHL) that season. Statistically, Pleskach put up 59 points in 61 regular season games, plus another seven points in six playoff games that season, earning him CHL all-rookie team honors.
“Even as a rookie, Adam played like a vet, yet, he understood the importance of absorbing the wealth of knowledge and experience from the older guys,” Ramsay said. “Every time I played Adam with the veteran players they were successful, quickly proving he was an asset.”
Also that season, he developed a friendship with Oilers team captain Nathan Lutz. Quickly, the two formed a bond and Lutz showed him the ropes about how to be a pro.
“He is the same type of guy; he is a farmer from Saskatchewan and just a really hard-working, salt-of-the-Earth type of guy,” Pleskach said of his former teammate. “So I looked up to him and learned a lot by just watching him and the way he conducted himself through the character he showed. He is the type of leader everyone should aspire to be and I always thought a lot of him.”
“Lutzy always appreciated players that were consistent and driven. Adam is one of these players so it was a no-brainer that they bonded,” Ramsay said. “Adam is a very trustworthy teammate and always puts his team first. He keeps a positive attitude and it is reflected in the locker room.”
Pleskach would play one more season under Ramsay, who left to be an assistant head coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins after the 2014-15 season. In the offseason that followed, Oilers General Manager Taylor Hall hired former Ontario Reign head coach Jason Christie to be the new bench boss.
“[Christie] was the other end of the spectrum in terms of what he expected from you,” Pleskach said. “I learned so much from him about how to play and see the game. I still use a lot of the stuff I learned from him.”
After a 41-goal season the year prior, Pleskach recalls a meeting the two had shortly after the likely ECHL Hall of Fame coach was hired. In not so many words, Christie told Pleskach it didn’t matter how many goals he scored, it was all about playing a tighter defensive game. For Pleskach, it meant seeing the game in a way he had not before:
“I became a better defensive player overall with [Christie] and that’s what he wanted,” Pleskach said. “It helped my style of play because I didn’t have a whole lot of direction at that point. I just wanted to score goals and he thought I was a selfish guy, but he saw a little bit more than that in me and dug a little bit of that out, I think.”
The offensive production was still there under Christie, but had slumped a bit. In 122 regular-season games, Pleskach piled up just 74 points (37G, 37A). The numbers would likely have been higher, but a groin injury forced him to the shelf during the middle parts of the 2016-17 season.
It would take some time to fully recover from that injury, and as that happened, the Oilers would again bring in a fresh face behind the bench. Enter Rob Murray, an American Hockey League Hall of Famer and Kelly Cup Championship-winning head coach. For the two, it was another feeling out process, but Murray knew almost immediately Pleskach would be the right guy to lead the team on the ice.
“One of the things I’ve noticed about him is he dedicated to making himself as good as he can be,” Murray said. “That includes things like his off-ice habits. He spent the summer training as hard as he could to get ready for the season and he’s a true pro. He wants to play the game and he wants to do it well.”
Murray Continued: “This guy gives the effort every day and that’s what I’m looking for in a Captain. He’s a guy that definitely leads by example.”
Aside from leading by example, there are other roles the captain fills, such as being the buffer between the coaches’ office and dressing room.
“In a way, you sorta have to have the temperature of the room and the team to be a good leader,” Pleskach said of the role. “It’s not going to work if you treat every team, year, or individual the same. Everyone’s got their own quirks and their own way to do things and in a way, you have to respect that and realize there’s a way to lead each person individually. If I’m a leader from more years to come, then that’s how I’m going to do it because That’s how I believe it should be done.”
He Continued: “You really have to match up with the coach as well. if your coach is being especially hard on guys, you can’t really be in their face. if i’m going to be in someone’s face, then i’m going to hope [Murray] isn’t going to be in their face.”
There’s another aspect of making Pleskach the team captain; you’re also making him the face of the organization. He has been with the team for six years and counting, a true rarity in today’s landscape of players constantly moving teams and leagues. For Adam, the decision to put down roots in Green Country versus living out of a suitcase came right away.
“A lot of people will say ‘the people,'” and that’s what it was. I met a lot of good people my first year, made a lot of good friends and I didn’t want to start that over every year twice a year like some guys do,” Pleskach said.
The decision to stay paid off, as he would go on to meet the woman who became his wife while in Tulsa. She is a teacher in the area. As fate would have it, her parents also met in Tulsa.
As the team prepares for game 7 tonight against the Kansas City Mavericks, Pleskach feels his team has the right mindset, having endured an 11-game winless skid earlier in the season.
“The guys can pick up with where we left off pretty well, I’m really impressed. Especially since we have quite a few young guys and rookies, it’s been great to watch the guys grow and it doesn’t feel like we have a bunch of young guys out there.”
With the march up the Oilers offensive record book continuing, Pleskach remains cognizant of his ultimate place in Oilers history while having a singular focus on delivering a Kelly Cup championship to Tulsa.
“I’d like to hang a championship banner up there, their last one was almost 30 years ago. I think a couple banners; division, win the conference, win a championship, I think some banners going up would be really cool. If I plan on living in Tulsa for a while, seeing a championship banner up there in 20 years, I think that’s the coolest thing I think about.”
Pleskach and the Oilers continue that quest tonight.