A little bittersweet hockey news came out of OKC this week as the Oklahoma City Blazers, who were part of the second rebirth of the Central Hockey League back in the 1992-93 season, announced on July 1 they were suspending operations for the upcoming season after failing to agree with the city on a new lease.
DeBray Ayala blamed the decision on the current economic downturn.
Due to the current economic downturn, the OKC Blazers are regrettably closing their doors effective July 1. Despite attempts to re-organize and streamline the operation, the substantial losses from running the team have led to this business decision.
"We have the most loyal fans of any team, anywhere, and we appreciate the unwavering support they have given the team for many years," said Bob Funk Sr. "The Blazers organization has maintained its commitment to the fans for nine years. We've tried everything to make this model work and explored every available option. If there had been any other choice, we would not have made this decision."
The OKC Blazers thank everyone for their support during their 17 seasons of play in the Central Hockey League.
For Oklahoma City hockey fans, however, that sad news was tempered by the city's intentions to bring an AHL team to the area in time for the 2010-11 season. According to Robert Przybolo of NewsOK.com, the city council is scheduled to vote to approve a "letter of intent" with Express Sports.
In February, representatives of the Edmonton Oilers toured the city. Currently, the Oilers own two AHL franchises. One is in Springfield, Massachusetts and the other is the currently dormant Edmonton Road Runners franchise. If all goes according to plan, the Road Runners' franchise would be moved to Oklahoma City and would serve as Edmonton's AHL affiliate.
In addition, it would place four AHL teams in the area with the Houston Aeros, San Antonio Rampage, and Texas Stars opening play near Austin this fall in Cedar Park.
That all having been said, I'm going to personally miss the Blazers. The very first professional hockey game I ever attended was in February of 2004 when my brother and I took in an Oklahoma City-Dallas Freeze contest at what's now the Cox Convention Center. I'd always loved watching the sport on television on our satellite system. But I never understood what people meant in that you'll never be able to appreciate the game until you see it live.
Even at the minor league level, I understood. And the people of Oklahoma City understood as the Blazers led all of minor league hockey in attendance five times during their recent history (1993-94, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2006-07). In fact, the city was considered a candidate for expansion in the NHL back in 1997 before the league awarded Nashville and Columbus expansion franchises.
There was also a dalliance with the IHL in the 2000 before the city decided they'd be better off staying with the CHL and the Blazers. A year later, the IHL folded due to over expansion.
This time around, their decision to swing for the fences is the smart decision.