Oklahoma City stuns minor league by ceasing operations

It's not often that Oklahoma City is involved with two interesting hockey stories on the same night.

First off, a bombshell: The Oklahoma City Blazers have informed the Central Hockey League that they are suspending operations just as the 2009-10 schedule is being complied. (The CHL also announced the New Mexico Scorpions will not play this season, either.)

The Blazers aren't just some minor league team in a non-traditional market: They led the CHL in average attendance last regular season by a wide margin, and have been an annual success story at the gate, playing in the city for 17 years.

From NewsOK.com, some method to the madness:

The Oklahoma City Blazers have suspended operations after failing to renew their lease with Oklahoma City to play in the Ford Center or Cox Center, a team official said Thursday. The decision comes as Oklahoma City officials have filed paperwork clearing the way to start negotiations with "a prospective AHL franchise afflilated with Express Sports," according to city documents.

The story claims the Blazers declined to renew their Ford Center lease after months of talks. The team has had an odd transition to the larger arena that houses the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder (R.I.P. Sonics), including some scheduling conflicts that sent them back to their old digs at the Cox Center.

But the real intrigue is the AHL angle, as all signs point to the Edmonton Oilers potentially moving their affiliate to Oklahoma City for the 2010-11 season. The Oilers visited OKC in 2008 to tour the city and its facilities.

As the NewsOK.com story reports, the Oilers own the dormant Edmonton Road Runners while their affiliation with the Springfield (Mass.) Falcons runs through 2010. It's complicated, but essentially the Oilers could "restart" the Road Runners in OKC while leaving a franchise in Springfield. The team has expressed a desire to have its AHL affiliate closer to Alberta.

The CHL is feeling shocked and betrayed by all of this, as one of the most successful minor league hockey towns in the U.S. will be without puck for a season; but clearly, the groundwork is there for a more major league to fill the void. Reading the comments on the story quoted above, some of the fans are jazzed about the upgrade.

The other OKC hockey news, which may be just as important: Former OKC Blazers player Robin Gomez was found "not guilty of assault causing bodily harm" for punching Chris Ferraro of the Las Vegas Wranglers during a game in 2008, according to the Victoria News. Ferraro claimed the incident, which happened when Gomez played for the Victoria Salmon Kings, was a sucker-punch; the judge ruled it was "within the scope of the game of hockey."

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