There is a lot of truth to the fact that every game and every point matters, especially in a 72 game hockey season – just ask the Tulsa Oilers.
The Oilers barely missed making the East Coast Hockey League playoffs last weekend, as the team finished just one point behind eighth place Quad City for the final playoff spot. The kicker is, Tulsa played at Quad City just the week before and could have stolen two points from the Mallards in the standings, but Quad City beat the Oilers that night, 5-2.
The team had such a great season and was as high as sixth place in the Western Conference, just three games out of second place, on February 21. But what happened in late February and March is what hurt the Oilers and knocked them out of a playoff spot.
First, there was a seven game losing streak. Then, there were several player call-ups to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Manitoba. No matter how much depth you have, it’s never easy to replace 10 players on your roster, and that’s in effect what the Oilers had to do in the final three weeks of the season.
Although Tulsa ended the season on a high note, winning nine of their last 14 games, including the last five in a row, they just couldn’t get help from the Quad City opponents as the Mallards also continued to win. Quad City won 10 of their last 14 games to keep Tulsa out of the playoffs.
You will not hear me complain about the fact that the Oilers are now in a true development league, preparing players to get to the next level and ultimately to the National Hockey League. However, the fact that Manitoba called up so many players at the same time, and then wasn’t playing these players in most of their games, is a bit suspect. Also, the Moose had no chance of making the playoffs, so a lot of fans were left wondering why those players weren’t returned to Tulsa to help the Oilers in their push to make the playoffs.
Well, I guess the simple answer is, it’s a business and the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose are not in the business of helping Tulsa make the playoffs. They’re in the business of developing NHL caliber players, and moving them up the system as quickly as the players’ performance warrants.
I know – it still hurts.
GOOD-BYE TO LUTZ
The Oilers said good-bye to three-year veteran captain Nathan Lutz after the final game of the season on Saturday night. Tulsa beat Wichita, 2-1, in overtime, as they celebrated Lutz’ final professional game of his long career.
He had announced his retirement earlier in the season, and the 38-year-old finished with 910 regular season games, along with 90 playoff games (1000 games total) to his credit. Lutz was a three-year iron man with the Tulsa Oilers, playing in every game over the past three seasons.
“I knew before the season started that this might be my last year, but I felt good and I’ve been blessed to be fairly healthy throughout my career, I decided to give it one more year,” Lutz said. “It’s been a lot of fun and a great career, but now it’s time to spend more time with my wife and kids and head back home to Canada.”
Keeping his games played streak alive wasn’t easy, especially in the final few weeks of this season. First Lutz got his left ear sliced when Chad Costello fell to the ice and his skate came up and nearly missed cutting Lutz in the throat. It took 18 stitches to close the wound and put the ear back together. Then in the final week of the season, Lutz experienced a freak injury to his leg.
“I don’t know how it happened, I don’t remember getting hit on the leg,” he said. “I was lying in the bunk after the game and all of a sudden I realized my leg was swollen and getting sore. When I looked at it, it was all bruised and swollen real big.”
The leg hobbled him a bit, but he stayed in the lineup each night.
The Iona College product spent time in several professional leagues in the United States, including; AHL, ECHL, CHL, and UHL. He also played in Norway, Denmark and Italy. He scored over 100 goals and more than 300 assists in his career.
Lutz is a truly a great guy and a throwback to the old days of hockey. He had the drive and fight to keep at it season after season, game after game. He never let injury get in the way, and never backed down from a challenge on the ice.
He now plans to join his father and brother in working on the family farm in his hometown, Mistatim, Saskatchewan. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.