OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - At this time every year, the multi-purpose Cox Convention Center is often reserved for high school and college graduations.
Trading their caps and gowns for copper and blue, Travis Ewanyk and David Musil are doing the same by graduating to the professional ranks with the Oklahoma City Barons.
Ewanyk, Musil and Martin Gernat (who's since headed back home to Slovakia to finish school) all signed Amateur Tryout (ATO) Contracts with the Barons less than 24 hours after the Oil Kings lost the WHL Championship Series to the Portland Winterhawks.
Since then, both players have been skating daily, practicing with the team, working out with Strength and Conditioning Coach, Kevin Hanlon, and getting involved with various community initiatives.
"It was a quick turnaround, but any chance you get to get that quick bump up to pro hockey, you have to take it as an experience and it's been great," said Ewanyk. "It's a great group of guys and the coaching staff is awesome. I've had a great time so far.
"It's been a warm welcome. With the playoffs going on, they have still taken a lot of time to tend to us and make us feel like we're at home. They've given us a great schedule and I'm grateful for that."
"It's a pretty good experience," added Musil, who was acquired by the Oil Kings in a mid-season trade with the Vancouver Giants. "Meeting all the guys, seeing the organization, the city -- it's really cool to come down here and see what it's all about.
"You learn a lot every day. Seeing the way the older guys practice and prepare for games, it's very cool."
Ewanyk (March 22) and Musil (June 12, 2012) both signed their three-year, entry-level contracts with the Oilers this past season.
The 20-year-old 2011 draft picks could have returned to the Oil Kings as overagers next season, but both appear ready to take the next step in their careers.
"Anytime you're around the coaching staff of another team, it's a tryout," said Ewanyk. "They're busy with their playoff (run), but we're being watched and it's good to get the feel of things. It makes you feel that much more comfortable going into camp."
Neither player is expected to suit up in game action, but it could happen if the Barons run into the injury bug. It's possible, but highly unlikely.
"We're not working so much on their skill development right now," said Assistant Coach Gerry Fleming. "Just trying to keep them in shape and game ready in case they need to go in. We work on skills after practice, but basically we're working on their conditioning and their timing, so that if they are called upon, they're ready."
While Ewanyk and Musil won't be traveling with the Barons on road trips, they will be participating in every practice at home in Oklahoma City. According to Fleming, both have been a pleasure to work with so far.
"I think that whole process of going deep into the playoffs has been great for their development," he said. "They've come down here with great attitudes, have been working hard and getting involved in the community.
"It's been a good experience for them."
Ewanyk recorded eight goals and 23 points in 58 regular-season games with the Oil Kings this season. He followed it up with a strong post-season, netting six and tallying 10 points while constantly being a thorn in the sides of his opponents.
Since his trade to Edmonton on Halloween, Musil was a force on the back end. Recording seven goals, 23 points and an incredible +29 rating in 48 games, the 6-foot-3, 196-pound defenceman quickly emerged as one of the WHL's best on the blue line.
Now, both players have turned the page and are suddenly engulfed in the professional lifestyle. With the Barons only three wins away from a berth in the Calder Cup Final, it's impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of it all.
"We've only been here a little over a week, but you can still feel that energy in the room and it's similar to what we had last year and even this year (with the Oil Kings)," said Ewanyk. "It's something where guys can look at each other and realize that you've got something special going on.
"It's cool to be a part of that, even if it's just a small piece."
Added Musil: "Seeing the level of game and being around here gets me pumped up and excited for next year. I know it's going to be a hard summer for me to get ready for next year."
Along for the ride is fellow Oilers prospect and former Oil King, Kristians Pelss.
The 20-year-old winger has split the 2012-13 season with the Barons and Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. The product of Preili, Latvia has only appeared in 20 games this season (recording a goal and eight points), but is thrilled to be a part of what the Barons are building.
"We have a great group of guys here and we have a lot of fun," he said. "It's good to be with this team. Even though I'm not playing (healthy scratch), I'm trying to help my teammates. It's good when we're winning -- it's a great feeling."
With Pelss, Ewanyk and Musil on one side, another ex-teammate sits on the other. Three-year (2007 to 2010) Oil Kings veteran Brent Raedeke is currently in this third season with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Forget a graduation. It's more like a family reunion!
"It will be good to meet up with him and see how he's doing," laughed Ewanyk. "He's one of the guys who, when I was a 16-year-old, he took me under his wing and was a veteran on our team.
"Being in the same league as him now is pretty cool."
Growing up and graduating together is pretty darn cool, too.
The Oilers, Oil Kings and Barons have built quite a fraternity.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick