Women’s hockey may not have much of a presence in Tulsa yet, but after an exhibition game Saturday at the BOK Center between two of the top women’s teams in the world, it’s clear it will get a chance to grow.
The Minnesota Whitecaps defeated fellow Premier Hockey Federation club Buffalo Beauts, 5-2, in a game billed as Battle of the Rig, offering Tulsa hockey fans a unique opportunity, and local girls a model for where they eventually could reach.
It was the first professional women’s hockey game in Oklahoma, thanks to Oilers owner Andy Scurto, who also owns both PHF teams. An estimated 2,000 hockey fans showed up for the afternoon matchup, prior to the Tulsa Oilers game against Allen.
The contest also featured an all-female officiating crew.
Scurto said he is proud of how the local community received the game and already has plans to bring another PHF game to Tulsa next season.
“I think it was great. We want the fans to come out and have fun, see something they haven’t really seen before, women’s professional hockey, so that was really cool,” said Scurto, who took over the Oilers’ ownership last September. “We had a great turnout. I think we might have matched or beat the best turnout for a PHF game ever, so fans really did a great job coming out and I really appreciate it. I think we pushed close to 2,500 fans. We didn’t know if we’d get that much, so I’m really happy.
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“We’ve already been asked, ‘When are you coming back?’ So you’ll see us here next season, I’m sure. And maybe next season, I’ll challenge one of the other owners’ teams to come take us on.”
Not only that, but Scurto also hinted that he would love to give Tulsa its own PHF team at some point, ideally in about three years.
“If the fans enjoy it, I’d love to have a women’s team here,” he said. “The league is growing — we’re at six teams planning to go to eight next season, 10 the year after, maybe 12, so there’s definitely room to get a team here. If the fans enjoy it, let’s get a team here.”
The PHF, formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), remains the top women’s hockey league in the world and hopes to unite at some point with the Professional Hockey Women’s Players Association (PHWPA) that features many of the United States and Canadian Olympic players that have been touring North America for the past few seasons.
Both teams competed in the Premier Hockey Federation’s playoffs last weekend, with the No. 5-seeded Whitecaps advancing to the league’s semifinals before falling to the top-ranked Connecticut Whale, 4-2. The No. 6 Beauts were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the eventual Isobel Cup champions, Boston Pride.
With each team wearing special Oilers-inspired jerseys, the Whitecaps controlled the play for most of the first two periods, building up a commanding 4-0 lead. The Minnesota trio of Jonna Curtis (two goals, one assist), Audra Morrison (three assists) and Ashleigh Brykaliuk (one goal, one assist) dominated the action seemingly whenever they were on the ice.
“It was kind of a bummer to lose in the semis,” admitted Curtis, who gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead just 7:24 into the game. “We had kind of a week to recuperate; the flight here was a little rough, but ever since we got here, it’s been a lot of fun, having that team bonding and just playing, and that’s what it’s all about, trying to grow the game. It was awesome, I definitely was not expecting we’d get that many fans.”
Goals by Anjelica Diffendal and Amy Budde in the third period helped Buffalo get back into the game, but Allie Thunstrom added an empty-net goal for Minnesota with 1:19 remaining to clinch the victory.
“The game itself was obviously awesome, but the whole experience, I think, has been pretty cool,” said Buffalo goaltender Caty Flagg, who made 28 saves. “I can’t say that I’ve ever been to Oklahoma, but to play hockey here was awesome, the whole environment has been awesome. It’s been really cool to see the support; I didn’t know Oklahoma had this much hockey. People were going crazy over it.”
Continuing to look forward, Scurto also noted that the Oilers hope to play an outdoor game at ONEOK Field at some point, perhaps within the next two years. Between that and his plan to build a new practice facility, Scurto has big plans for the future of hockey in Tulsa.
“We’re talking to the Drillers,” he acknowledged, regarding an outdoor game. “Apparently, there’s something coming up where they have to re-do the field or something, and it’s going to be timed perfectly for us to put an ice rink out there for three or four weeks. It’s on the horizon. I think it’s two seasons out, I don’t know the exact dates, but they’re working on it. You’ll see something in the next couple of years. It’s going to happen.
“I like to challenge new ideas and new things. You’ll see me doing all kinds of crazy things; sometimes they won’t work, but that’s just me.”
First period: 1, Min, Curtis (Morrison), 7:24. 2, Min, Brykaliuk (Morrison, Curtis), 12:35 (PP). Penalties: Keenan, Buf (tripping), 12:27; Klienbach, Buf (tripping), 18:27.
Second period: 3, Min, Turnquist (unassisted), 6:54. 4, Min, Curtis (Brykaliuk, Morrison), 11:19. Penalties: none.
Third period: 5, Buf, Diffendal (Segall), 4:24. 6, Buf, Budde (Suokko), 8:18. 7, Min, Thunstrom (Langei), 18:41. Penalties: none.
Saves: Min, Leveille 14, Brenneman 8; Buf, Flagg 28. Shots on goal: Min, 14-10-9-33; Buf, 9-5-10-24. Power plays: Min 1-for-2, Buf 0-for-0.
Photos: BOK Center hosts first women’s pro hockey game in Oklahoma