Outside of Joe Burton, Peter Arvanitis might have been the most popular player in the Oklahoma City Blazers' modern history.
Long, black hair and a habit for fighting anyone — no matter how big they were — made Arvanitis stand out. But he was as nice off the ice as much as he was nasty on it. All were reasons why Arvanitis pushed Smokin' Joe as big man on campus.
“Oh, there was Joe, Marty (Standish), Hardy (Sauter) — Wade Brookbank would've become real popular, but he moved up pretty quick,” said Arvanitis, naming teammates who were also fan favorites. “We just had a good core of players, all who worked hard.”
Arvanitis, 38, recently completed his second season as the University of Oklahoma's club hockey team head coach. The Sooners have been successful under Arvanitis, including sixth in the nation this season. Arvanitis said he remains in playing shape, but he cut the hair that used to brush the name on the back of his sweater.
“I have to look presentable now that I'm recruiting,” Arvanitis said with a laugh. “The long hair was the hockey days.”
Arvanitis played for the Blazers over the 1997-2004 seasons. He quickly caught the attention of OKC fans and opponents; he was a 5-foot-10, 181-pound puncher who spent a single-season, franchise-record 403 minutes in the penalty box.
“Joe scored the goals, and Peter fought for his teammates when he had to,” Arvanitis said. “I don't want to say ‘it was my job,' but I didn't want to see any of our players pushed around. Some nights, in front of 10,000 people, if we were struggling and the other team had their tough guy on the ice, I was going to go out there and see if I could add some spark to our team.”
Arvanitis' career ended Christmas Night 2004, suffering a wrist injury that sheared ligaments and tendons. He needed 18 months of rehabilitation and still has some movement limits.
He finished with 1,189 penalty minutes as a Blazer, but over seven seasons, he developed as a hockey player. The Montreal native became a decent point producer, one of the team's best faceoff men and a penalty killer deluxe. The Blazers won the 2000-2001 Central Hockey League championship with Arvanitis logging a career-best 48 points in 69 games.
“I learned a lot when I played,” said Arvanitis, who lives in Norman with his wife and two boys. “I think I gained the respect and confidence of our coaching staff — they gave me tasks to do. If (Blazers coach Doug Sauter) asked me to go out there and win a draw, that's what I was going to do. I wanted to produce for the team, anything to help us win.”