The past six months have been kind to hockey fans in Tulsa.
The Oilers won their first division title since 1976 and advanced to the ECHL Western Conference finals before falling in seven games, their longest playoff run since winning the title in a six-team Central League in 1993.
Then they watched the Oilers’ NHL affiliate, the St. Louis Blues, win the Stanley Cup in June.
Now, the NHL is coming back to the BOK Center to play a preseason game for the second consecutive year, as the Dallas Stars play the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The game, officially referred to as the second annual Tulsa Classic, features the same opponents from last year’s game, which the Panthers won 4-3 in overtime.
“We love coming up there,” Dallas Stars President Brad Alberts said. “Obviously, the BOK Center is a great venue. We’d like to create Stars fans out of the Tulsa area (because) it’s obviously in our TV footprint (on Fox Sports Oklahoma). It’s a quick, easy trip to a great city. It just mixes it up and gets us into the region where we can create fans. Great experience, great city and great venue.”
Last year’s exhibition, the first NHL preseason game in Tulsa since the Blues played the Atlanta Flames at the Convention Center in 1978, drew a crowd of 11,235.
To some, that was a slightly disappointing turnout, but the fact that the University of Oklahoma was playing football at the same time drew some potential fans away.
While OU is off Saturday on its bye week, the hockey game will be taking place at the same time as a big football matchup between Oklahoma State and No. 12 Texas, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in Austin.
“Obviously, you always want more, unless you’re sold out, but it was fine,” Alberts said about last year’s attendance. “Certainly, we’d love to have more people turn out, get a better atmosphere in there, but it was the first year and hopefully, there will be a little bit more this year and we can make it a kind of a tradition, to figure out a way to get up there every year. We were OK with it. And that’s going to happen, we’re in the middle of September, so college football’s in the meat of the schedule.”
While officially a neutral-zone game, the match will be treated by the Stars as if it was a home game, with Dallas trying to make the atmosphere mimic that of their home arena, the American Airlines Center, as much as possible.
“We’re bringing Ice Girls and our mascot, we’ll run the show, so it’ll feel like a Stars game,” Alberts said. “That’s what we tried to do last year, and we’ll do that again. We can’t do everything like the AAC, but we’re trying to make it feel like a Stars home game.”
The Stars, who lost to the Blues in double overtime of Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs last spring, enter the game with a 2-1-0 record following a 2-1 victory in Colorado on Thursday.
Since they haven’t yet played during the preseason, it is very likely that key Stars Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov will play in Tulsa.
As for Florida (0-3-1), it is coming off a 5-4 shootout loss at Montreal on Thursday.
And unlike last year’s game, when virtually no regulars saw action in Tulsa, the Panthers should have several important contributors in the lineup, including captain Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and possibly even goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who has yet to play for his new team this preseason.