Around the time that some people would have started their drive to the BOK Center, an unsettling notification flashed on their phones: “A tornado warning is issued for Tulsa, Rogers and Washington counties until 6:45 p.m.”
A Wednesday night hockey game — Toledo vs. the Tulsa Oilers in Game 7 of the ECHL Western Conference finals — was scheduled for a 7:05 start. The threat of violent weather had a pronounced effect on attendance.
It was tremendously disappointing for Oilers management and for the Tulsa players who hoped that a nice crowd would respond for a conference championship game. For the three Western finals games played in Toledo, there were sellout crowds of better than 7,500.
No one ever should be condemned for choosing safety over entertainment, but to have only a few hundred witnesses for a Game 7 in Tulsa — it was massively unfortunate.
Here’s what you missed: A massively unfortunate outcome.
The Tulsa season ended with a 6-2 loss to Toledo. The final score was somewhat deceiving as the Walleye tallied two empty-net goals in the final two minutes. There was from Tulsa a greater sense of urgency during the third period, but at no point all night did it feel like the Oilers had any real momentum.
For about 90 percent of this Game 7, Toledo dictated the terms of this do-or-die collision of two teams that by now must be sick of each other.
As the Oilers’ offense mustered a total of only 26 shots, they were stoned in their bid to compete against Eastern Conference champ Newfoundland in the Kelly Cup finals.
Tulsa was without No. 1 goaltender Devin Williams, who during this series has dealt with an undisclosed injury. As Williams was sidelined in Game 6 in Ohio, Ian Keserich totaled 29 saves in a 4-2 Tulsa triumph that stunned the big, loud Toledo crowd.
For Game 7, Oilers coach Rob Murray again called Keserich’s number. In three previous playoff starts, Keserich allowed only three goals.
During the opening period on Wednesday, he gave up three.
Tulsa’s Stephen Perfetto had a power-play goal, but otherwise, inexplicably, the Oilers seemed flat during much of the first period. The Walleye capitalized with goals by David Pope and Zach Gallant. With 2:46 minutes left in the period, Chris Crane scored to give the Walleye a 3-1 cushion.
Within the Oilers locker room, there probably wasn’t a hint of panic. These guys are accustomed to challenges.
Matched with Kansas City in the first round of the postseason, Tulsa trailed three-games-to-two before prevailing in a Game 7 at the BOK Center. In this Toledo series, Tulsa returned from Ohio with a two-games-to-none deficit.
A week later — on Wednesday, at the same time that storm-warning sirens were activated throughout Green Country — there was another challenge: in another Game 7 on home ice, the Oilers trailed 4-2 as they entered the final period.
Plenty of time remained for problem-solving — if Tulsa could generate multiple attacks against Toledo goalie Pat Nagle. As minutes melted from the clock, it didn’t happen.
Time expired. The handshake line ensued. With their Western Conference trophy, Walleye team members posed for photos at center ice.
Tulsa’s 2018-19 season was brilliant — the best by any Tulsa hockey team since the 1993 Oilers captured the Central Hockey League title. At 42-24-4-2, the Oilers were at the top of the ECHL Mountain Division. With a home-attendance average of 5,762, they were fourth in the 27-team league.
However, before Murray and his players can appreciate what they did over a span of seven months, they’ll have to heal from the disappointment of having been on the wrong end of a Game 7 knockout.