Oklahoma City Blazers Hockey

Blazers vs Rhinos Preview

Weekend Preview vs el paso pic

 

It is finally here. It being the calendar circled weekend the Blazer’s have had on their minds since the schedule was released in the summer of last year. After all, it was the El Paso Rhino’s that eliminated the Blazer’s from post season play merely months ago in a grueling 3 game series that went the distance.

“We are approaching this weekend like it is the playoffs,” said head coach Tyler Fleck. “We are in a dog fight for first place overall in the league. Everyone is amped up for this series. The Blazer and Rhino rivalry is hands down the most heated rivalry in the entire league.” Fleck touches on a couple of key points.

The Blazers are in current contention for the league’s top record, trailing only the Colorado Eagles by a single point, with several games in hand. Home ice can be extremely massive in the post season with the structure of the best of three format leaving minimal room for error. Everyone indeed is amped for this series. Ticket sales have been at their highest on the season and record crowds at the Blazers Ice Center are expected this weekend. As far as the rivalry is concerned, we’ll let the on ice product dictate that. If this year’s opening matchup between the clubs is comparable whatsoever to last year’s three game sets, the statement holds tremendous truth. The pace of play was fierce, the action constant and the hatred evident.

The Blazers have added a tremendous amount of depth to their roster this season however still rely a great deal on their experience, particularly with their returning players from last season’s squad. Amongst the returning faces, second year defenseman Drake Johnson has been a mainstay on the Oklahoma City blue line. “We definitely have a chip on our shoulders going into this weekend from what they did last year, ending our season,” stated Johnson. “The boys are definitely fired up to get back even with them. We are all looking forward to these games and ready to battle.” Battle may be an understatement heading into the weekend set, however their is no doubting the extent of the player’s preparation and focus for this series. An on ice war may be a more suitable prediction for the multitude of battles that will take place over the course of the weekend. “A shift at at time mentality,” explained Fleck. “Win each shift. In the end you get what you deserve.”

Like most winning coaches should, Fleck has an extreme amount of confidence in his team, notably the depth of this year’s club, specifically on the back end. “The strongest part of our team is our d-core and goaltending,” stated Fleck. “Our entire d-core can play in most situations and the blend of veteran leadership amongst our imports with local talent has been phenomenal.” Part of that local talent has been Johnson and his ability to play a rounded game on a consistent basis. “Being a tough player and playing with an edge,” said Johnson of his requirements as a Blazer defenseman. “Getting the team on the same page and sticking to the game plan, no matter what the game holds,” continued Johnson on his input from a leadership standpoint.

From a netminding perspective, the Blazers exceptional goaltenders all provide size and technical soundness. “Our goaltending has been phenomenal as well this season,” continued Fleck. “It does not matter who’s playing, they all have played well.” As the old cliche states, defense wins championships. It still may be a bit early to be talking about championships, however one thing is for certain. Heading into a massive weekend set against a former league champion, the Blazers are stout on the backend, prepared to shut down any opposition that they meet along the way. They will be forced to be on their game this weekend, against a much improved El Paso squad, looking to make a strong mid season statement.

It would not be just to discuss this weekend’s rivalry matchup without mentioning the Blazer’s hometown crowd and the impact they will have on the games during this series. There is a pulse amidst Oklahoma City and surrounding area when it comes to hockey and the community is starving for a championship run after being exposed to such quality hockey the past season and a half. The crowds should be buzzing this weekend as they attempt to fill up the Blazers Ice Center and influence the energy level their hometown boys manage to showcase. “Our hometown fans give everyone almost another gear to play with and make the game better for everyone watching,” Johnson said in recognition of the Blazer fanbase. “The fans have been unbelievable this year.” The Blazers will look to feed off their fans this weekend, particularly from the get go Friday night. If the tone can be set early for Oklahoma City and they can dictate the pace of play for the course of the weekend, they will have an obvious advantage and tremendous opportunity to make a home ice stand against one of the league’s top squads. It should be a thrilling 3 game set that will not disappoint, as both these clubs look to gain an edge over the other in this potential divisional finals preview.