TULSA, OK — The Tulsa Oilers are for real this season. Instead of mimicking last season’s spate of heartbreaking one-goal losses in the early weeks of the season, this year’s Oilers team has yet to suffer a loss through four games and have shown remarkable resilience when faced with adversity.
The Oilers hosted the Atlanta Gladiators for the first time in their brief ECHL tenure, hosting the Gladiators for a two-game set. The Oilers opened the home side of their 2016-17 schedule with an impressive 6-1 win over the Indy Fuel on Friday night and a win to open the season proper with a 4-3 victory on the road over their oldest historic rival Wichita last Saturday night.
This weekend provided a rollercoaster ride for the teams on the ice and the fans in the seats as both games took more than the allotted sixty minute to solve.
Saturday night the game ended in a 4-4 deadlock as the momentum swung back and forth between Tulsa and Atlanta throughout the contest. It began with a goal less than two minutes in when Tulsa’s Jiri Fronk found the net behind Atlanta goalie Dan Vlader to give the home side an early 1-0 lead.
That lead would continue until the 14th minute of the first period when Tyler Murovich capitalized on a neutral zone giveaway and shot one past Oilers goalie Jamie Phillips to knot the score at one each and end the period in a tie.
Adam Pleskach tilted the game momentum back in the home team’s favor with an unassisted second period goal at 5:56, followed a little less than two minutes later when the line of Emerson Clark, Dan DeSalvo, and Phil Brewer combined to give the Oilers a two-goal advantage with Clark burying a neat feed from Brewer that just happened to be the Whitby, Ontario native’s first goal of the season.
Atlanta then chipped down the Oilers lead by one when Murovich got his second goal of the game with just five seconds left in the middle frame to end the period at 3-2. Derek Nesbitt, the Gladiators team captain, punched in the equalizer five minutes into the third period and the deadlock resumed. Danick Paquette tied the game up with a little over 6 minutes to go and so end regulation time.
An exciting, but scoreless overtime session followed the game, and after Phillips stoned six rounds of Atlanta shooters Tulsa’s Emerson Clark went high over Gladiator Dan Vlader’s shoulder to end the game in the Oilers favor.
It was much the same story on Sunday.
The rubber match of the weekend this time started with an Atlanta goal, with Eric Neiley swatting in his second tally in as many nights a little over 12 minutes elapsed and the visitors lead extended to period’s end with the Gladiators outshooting the Oilers 31-7.
In the second period, while the Oilers were sitting a penalty kill situation with Christophe Lalancette boxed for high sticking, Emerson Clark notched a shorthanded goal to tie the game at 1-1, but the tie lasted only 57 seconds as the Gladiators resumed the lead with a carom shot by Thomas Frazee that deflected off an Oiler defender in front of Jamie Phillips.
The Gladiators then added to the lead late in the second on a goal from Justin Buzzeo, and just like that the Oilers were looking uphill at the 3-1 deficit.
Then the comeback ensued.
Dan DeSalvo drove straight up the gut of the Atlanta defense and buried a shot behind Atlanta goalie Matt Ginn to pull Tulsa to within one goal at 6:14 of the second period, and then Clark brought the Oilers even with the Gladiators with a little over two minutes to play in regulation time when he batted in a deflection over Ginn’s head.
Adam Pleskach jammed in a goal with 97 seconds remaining in the overtime session to give the Oilers their fourth straight win and make them one of only two teams with a perfect, undefeated record thus far in the early stages of the season.
“It was tough, you know.” Oilers head coach Jason Christie said after Sunday’s game, “It’s all about chances and we gave them some great chances and opportunities and they buried them. We battled back and it’s all about getting the puck on net and that’s what we did.
“It’s a long season. Every night’s gonna be different. Some night’s you’ll have some great chances and others you’ll have to muck out.”
Speaking to Emerson Clark after the game on Sunday he spoke about how important it was, as a scoring forward to get the first goal of a long season.
“It’s important,” Clark said, “If you don’t get on the score sheet early you kind of get down on yourself, then put pressure on yourself to get one. But I got lucky and I got on the board early this year.”
The Oilers will play their fourth game in five nights this Tuesday when they take on the defending Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans for the first time at home.