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Squad goals

Oilers, off to strong start, have the playoffs in their sight

Tulsa Oilers play on home ice at the BOK Center

David Lackey Photography

The Tulsa Oilers needed to jump out to a fast start for their 2018-19 season, based on the schedule—and so far, they have done just that.

In their fifth year in the ECHL (essentially the Double-A level of minor league hockey, the second rung below the NHL), their 11th year at BOK Center and 67th overall, the Oilers started 4-0-1 in their first five games, part of a season-opening eight-game homestand.

Attempting to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, Tulsa wanted to bank some points in those first few contests on home ice before the schedule got more difficult. They will have a season-high seven-game road trip over a span of 14 days in December, so it was important to start strong.

“You feel the pressure. You definitely want to take advantage of it,” said Rob Murray, Oilers second-year coach and director of hockey operations. “I think we’re doing that as of right now, but we just got to keep doing it.”

The early going has featured impressive victories over traditional rivals Allen (6-4 on Oct. 21), Kansas City (4-1 on Oct. 26) and Wichita (2-1 in overtime on Oct. 27). Sixth-year Oiler and captain Adam Pleskach (two goals, four assists) and second-year goaltender Devin Williams (2.00 goals against average, .933 save percentage) have led the way. Second-year Ryan Tesink (one goal, five assists), veteran newcomer Peter Sivak (three goals, two assists), and rookie Jared Thomas (three goals, two assists), among others, also performed well in the early going.

In addition to re-signing solid defensemen Eric Drapluk and Steven Kaunisto, Tulsa has received several key players from AHL San Antonio, such as Thomas and last year’s leading scorer, Charlie Sampair, thanks to its primary affiliation with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. The Oilers also forged a secondary agreement with AHL San Diego that has resulted in three defensemen—Scott Moldenhauer, Terrance Amorosa and Chris Forney—joining the squad and bolstering the blueline.

“I got a call from the GM in San Diego during the summer and he just asked me if there was any room to place players, because they didn’t have an affiliate,” Murray said. “The way the rules work in our league is that you can only have a marquee-type affiliation, so St. Louis gets the billing—but San Diego, I said if they wanted to assign players here, I’d be more than willing to take them. They’re big, strong, good hockey players. It was beneficial to us to take those guys on.”

As the different factions of the team continue to mold together, Murray has been pleased with the early-season progress, and hopes it results in a return to the playoffs.

“I think, as a team, we can get better,” said Murray, who won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup championship in 2014 with the Alaska Aces. “The biggest thing is to make the playoffs. We didn’t last year and that puts it at three in a row, so for me, getting that done is the number one thing on my list. I like how the team looks right now.”

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