ECHL: Tulsa Oilers 2023-24 Season Recap

Photo by: Em Behringer for Inside the Rink

The Tulsa Oilers’ bittersweet season ended with a 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Mavericks on April 22nd. Bitter because the Oilers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Brabham Cup-winning Mavericks, the Brabham Cup is awarded to the team with the most points in the regular season. Sweet because the Oilers made huge strides forward from their 2022-23 season.

The Oilers clinched a playoff berth with a 4-1 victory over the Allen Americans in the last game of the season. This was only the third time in ten seasons that the Oilers would play an extended season; their last playoff appearance was in the 2021-22 season, where they lost to the Utah Grizzlies in seven games in round one. The Oilers lost 4-0 to the Mavericks but played well against the league points leader. Tulsa lost by one point in two games and by two points in the other two. This is a bright spot for the Oilers and coach Rob Murray. The Oilers finished the season with 30 wins and 69 points; their goal differential was minus eleven, a significant improvement over the previous season, where they won 22 games for 53 points and a massive minus-76 goal differential. They also leapfrogged the three teams that finished ahead of them last season, moving from last place to fourth over the Utah Grizzlies, Wichita Thunder, and Rapid City Rush. 

Photo by: Em Behringer for Inside the Rink

This storied franchise will play in its 96th year in professional hockey next season. They have played in five different leagues since 1928, where they started in the five-team American Hockey Association. The Oilers are known for having a tremendous fan base that helps energize and motivate the team. They averaged 7,378 fans in the BOK Center this season. Tulsa will have a new training facility for 2024-25 at the newly opened, 14,000-square-foot WeStreet Ice Center. Tulsa must improve against their division opponents, as they had a losing record against every team except the Rapid City Rush. The team will look to improve their offensive and defensive performance and the performance of their special teams. They were 17th in the league on the powerplay with 18.8% success and 24th in penalty kill at 76.8%. They were 18th in goals for with 3.08 per game and 14th in goals against with 3.24. The Oilers were the league leader in shots for with 36.94 per game and 10th for shots against with 30.61. Goaltender Julian Junca was 18th in the league, and Kyle Crnkovic was 13th for rookie points.

Photo by: Chris Povlin for Inside the Rink

The Oilers returned 12 players from the previous season. Forward Eddie Matsushima improved from his goal- and point-leading season in 2022-23. He scored 28 goals and 47 points last year and 25 goals and 53 points this year, good enough for second on the team. Newcomer Kyle Crnkovic, signed from the WHL at the beginning of the season, led the team with 54 points, replacing Maxim Golod. Golod was under contract by the Anaheim Ducks and traded in March 2023 to the Chicago Blackhawks, who reassigned him to the Indy Fuel. Forwards Michael Farren, Dante Sheriff, and Kalvyn Watson; defensemen Jarod Hilderman, Mike McKee, and Kylor Wall; and goaltender Gage Alexander improved their stats from last season. Forwards Tag Bertuzzi, Blake McLaughlin, Tyler Poulsen, and defenseman Karl Boudrias were less productive this season. With Golod, the Oilers lost forwards Alex Gilmour, Jackson Leef, and Jimmy Soper, as well as defensemen Justin Bean and Cameron Supryka, who contributed 18 or more points to the team last season. Coach Murry needed to improve his goaltenders, as his six goalies in 2022-23 had a combined save percentage of 0.881. Goaltenders Colten Ellis, Daniel Mannella, and Riley Morris all signed with other teams and leagues before the season. Julian Junca signed with the Oilers from Gap in the Ligue Magnus, the top hockey league in France. The Oilers used six goaltenders this season, but Junca and Alexander started in 56 of the 72 games, with Junca recording a 0.901 save percentage and 16 wins and Alexander improving his save percentage from 0.875 to .0887 and five wins. The team’s save percentage improved from 0.881 the previous season to 0.900. 

Photo by: Chris Povlin for Inside the Rink

The Oilers have already seen two players signing contracts overseas. Forward Austin Albrecht signed with the Melbourne Ice in the AIHL, the top league in Australia, and forward Kishaun Gervais signed with RoKi in Mestis, the second-highest league in Finland. Albrecht was traded to the Oilers by the Maine Mariners on March 26th. He played seven games for the Oilers and did not record a point. Gervais started the season with the Birmingham Bulls in the SPHL and signed a contract with the Oilers on November 1st. He played 52 games for the Oilers, recording 13 goals and 22 points. 

Photo by: Em Behringer for Inside the Rink

GM Taylor Hall and Coach Murray will need to lock up key players from this year’s team and find new players to help improve the team. Among other criteria, a player’s age, performance, and contract status help determine whether a player will be with the team next season. Goaltender Gage Alexander and forward Jaxsen Wiebe are under contract for next season, and forwards Dallas Comeau, and Bair Gendunov are on loan and should return to the team. The remaining 24 players have contracts that expire in 2024 and must be resigned. Of the 24 players, Alec Butcher, Eddie Matsushima, Mike McKee, Tyler Poulsen, and Yaroslav Yevdokimov are all over 30 years old and make up almost 30% of the team’s goals. I expect to see the Oilers back in the playoffs next season, given their improvement in play this season, although it’s too early to project a deep playoff run.

James Slemp

I write for and photograph the Florida Everblades for ITR. I am a retiree that has turned my hobby of photography into a business. I currently live in Sarasota, Florida with my wife, Christy, but I'm originally from California. My previous career has taken me all over the US and the world and I definitely enjoy traveling. I've played hockey for over 30 years, learning as an adult, and love the game.

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