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Barons not OKC’s first rodeo

by Bob Hersom || AHL On The Beat Archive

This isn’t, as the saying goes, Oklahoma City’s first rodeo.

While this is the city’s first season in the American Hockey League, it isn’t OKC’s first year with a top-level minor professional hockey club.

The Barons are the third such team in Oklahoma City’s pro hockey history, which dates to 1933.

For 15 seasons, Oklahoma City teams played in the original Central Hockey League from 1965-72, 1973-77 and 1978-1982. The teams were called the Blazers in the first 11 seasons and the Stars for the next four.

Before the original Central League played in Oklahoma City, the city had an American Hockey Association team, the OKC Warriors, for three seasons (1933-36). Those teams were a combined 52-80-12.

The final OKC Warriors team finished the 1935-36 season with two home games in Minneapolis.

Ironically, pro hockey returned to Oklahoma City 29 years later – after moving from Minneapolis.

The old Oklahoma City Blazers were affiliated with the Boston Bruins the first seven seasons (1966-72, 1973-76), the Toronto Maple Leafs for three seasons and four WHA teams (Houston, Colorado, Phoenix and San Diego) for one year.

The Oklahoma City Stars were the top farm club of the Minnesota North Stars for three seasons and the Calgary Flames for one season, 1981-82 – OKC’s last, until now, campaign as a top NHL affiliate .

Oklahoma City’s first two CHL hockey clubs were league champions. The original OKC Blazers won the CHL’s Adams Cup in 1965-66 (sweeping Tulsa in the best-of-seven finals) and 1966-67.
The Blazers were 69-49-22 in those two regular seasons, and 12-4 in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City hasn’t won a top minor pro championship since the 1966-67 season.

In 1968, the Blazers lost to eventual league champion Tulsa in the semifinals. In 1969, the Blazers lost to Dallas in the Adams Cup finals.

Then came three straight seasons with more losses than wins, though the Blazers were the CHL semifinals in 1971 and ’72.

Oklahoma City did not have a pro hockey team in the 1972-73 season. Hockey returned in 1973-74, when OKC, as Toronto’s top affiliate, reached the Adams Cup finals. The OKC Blazers lost in the CHL semifinals the next two years.

After a dreadful season as the farm team of four WHA teams, going 15-53-8, Oklahoma City again was without pro hockey in 1977-78.

The Stars returned to OKC for four more seasons, with Minnesota from 1978-81 and Calgary in the 1981-82 season. All four Stars teams lost more often than they won, though the last two teams did reach the CHL playoffs.

Five members of the Hockey Hall of Fame have played or coached for the Oklahoma City Blazers and Stars of the old CHL: right wing Dino Ciccarelli, coach Harry Sinden, goaltenders Bernie Parent and Gerry Cheevers and coach Glen Sather, who was a player for Oklahoma City.

Cicarelli, inducted into the Hockey Hall this year, played for the 1980 and 1981 Oklahoma City Stars. He scored three goals and five points in six games in ’80, then had 32 goals and 57 games in 48 games in ’81. He was called up by North Stars, beginning a 19-year NHL career.

Sinden was a player-coach for the Blazers and won the 1966 Adams Cup, going 8-1 in the playoffs. Sinden, who became the Boston Bruins’ coach the following year, had three goals and 13 points as an OKC Blazers defenseman.

Cheevers and Parent were easily the most famous goalkeeping duo in Oklahoma City, in the Blazers’ first two seasons. Parent made his pro debut in Oklahoma City, forging an 11-5-1 record and 2.88 goals-against average, and Cheevers was 16-4 with a 2.37 GAA. He was CHL goalie of the year in 1967. No wonder Oklahoma City won CHL titles those first two seasons.

Another reason: Sather, who played left wing for the first two OKC Blazers teams. He had 27 goals and 58 points in 121 regular season games, then came on strong in the playoffs, with six goals and 16 points in 20 games. He later went on to coaching greatness in the NHL, winning 60.2 percent of his games. He guided Edmonton to four Stanley Cup titles over five years.

Centerman Bobby Francis was the CHL most valuable player, rookie of the year and points leader in 1982. He had 48 goals and 114 points in 80 Stars games.

Center-right wing Jim Lorentz was the CHL rookie of the year in 1968 and the league’s most valuable player and points leader in 1969. He had 66 goals and 184 points in 126 games for OKC, then went on to a 10-year NHL career.

Centerman Steve West was the CHL leader in points (96) and assists (63) in 1977.

Left wing Gregg Sheppard was the 1972 CHL most valuable player in his third and final OKC season. He had 41 goals and 93 points in 72 games that year.

Barry Gibbs was the CHL’s most valuable defenseman in 1969, three years after being the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft.

Claire Alexander was the CHL’s rookie of the year and most valuable defenseman in 1974. Over three Oklahoma City seasons he had 56 goals and 141 points in 148 games.

Russ Gillow was the CHL’s leading goaltender in 1968, when he was 25-8-9 with a .911 save percentage and 2.16 GAA.

John Adams was the CHL’s leading goaltender in 1972, his third and final Blazers season.

Right wing Steve Atkinson was the CHL rookie of the year 1969, scoring 40 goals and 40 assists. He added 29 goals and 23 assists the next season.

Centerman Mike Eaves was the CHL rookie of the year in 1979, with 26 goals and 87 points in 68 Stars games. He also had nine goals and 17 points in just 12 games the following year, earning an NHL callup.

Oklahoma City had one Coach of the Year in the CHL: Gerry Moore, for the 1973-74 Oklahoma City Blazers, who were 36-25-11 in the regular season and second in the Adams Cup playoffs.

Forward Tiger Williams rates as the best enforcer in Oklahoma City’s hockey history. He had 202 penalty minutes in just 39 games in 1975, then was called up to Toronto, beginning a 14-year NHL career.

There’s more: Williams went on to set the NHL record for career penalty minutes, with 3,966 – which is 401 more minutes than the second-place enforcer.