Oklahoma City Barons players Monday morning put on their uniforms — everything but their skates — at their lockers at the Cox Convention Center then carpooled to the Blazers Ice Centre for practice.
Fifteen times this season the Barons have practiced at their alternate rink eight miles south of downtown.
This time, graduation ceremonies made the Cox Center ice unavailable.
In February, the ice was removed for the sports health festival and gymnastics event hosted by Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci. Earlier this season, a pre-paid legal convention booked the entire Cox Center.
“It's nicer when you get dressed and walk just 30 feet onto the ice,” said rookie defenseman Taylor Fedun. “But it's a small thing. It's not the end of the world. Once you're on the ice the surface is the same.”
The Blazers Ice Centre is a high-quality backup option for the Barons. Plus, coach Todd Nelson said the organization is fortunate to practice more than 100 times a season at the Cox Center.
“Actually (an alternate arena) happens more than people think in the NHL because of concerts and other events,” Nelson said. “When I was in Atlanta, we rarely practiced at Phillips Arena. We had a practice rink and offices set up there.
“It's pretty common, especially in the AHL. A lot of teams dress and drive. We have all the amenities (at the Cox Center) to ice down guys or go to the sauna after practice. The players would rather practice at Cox, but it doesn't really have any affect.”
The Barons will leave Wednesday morning for the Western Conference finals that begin this weekend. They will spend Wednesday night in Detroit and bus around 150 miles to practice Thursday in either Grand Rapids or Toronto, whichever team advances.
Of the two possible opponents, Grand Rapids has more skill on the offensive end. Toronto, though, is the defending Western Conference champ. The Marlies defeated Oklahoma City in the conference finals last season.