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OIL COUNTRY MAGAZINE: Condors Here To Stay

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

As the old adage goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As Bakersfield is set to become the Oilers new American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate next January 29, 2015 that Bakersfield will be part of a brand-new Pacific Division of the AHL, the California team quickly got to work, asking for submissions for a ‘Name the AHL Team’ contest.

After receiving over 1,000 submissions and 100 unique name suggestions from fans, with some very strong contenders in the fold, the old idiom above seemed to ring true as fans voted loud and clear to keep the storied Condors name.

“Fans had a lot of fun with it, we had a lot of fun with it and I think we got a pretty good sense and a pretty good feel of what people wanted to do,” said Condors President Matthew Riley.

“The Condors have a great legacy in the community of Bakersfield and a great reputation in minor hockey for their creative and fun, family-oriented atmosphere at the Rabobank Arena,” said Oilers Entertainment Group Vice Chair Kevin Lowe.

“What better way to build a strong future in the AHL Pacific Division than to build off the great Condors brand.”

While there was once a team called the Bakersfield Oilers in the 1940s, Bakersfield has since come to be known as ‘Condorstown’, home of one of the most fun franchises in professional hockey.

Courtesy: Oil Country Magazine

Known for their unique promotions and marketing antics, the Condors have been featured on various news networks and entertainment shows in the United States. It’s not just a marketing campaign, the ‘Condors way’ is a lifestyle.

“There is never a boring day and it’s 24/7, 365 days,” Riley said. “No ideas are dumb and even if they don’t work, they might be birdseed for other ideas. You keep throwing them up to the wall and eventually some things stick. Some of them work, some of them don’t but you have a lot of fun trying.”

Gettysburg Address, The Hobbit and Fifty Shades of Grey themed jerseys, Charlie Sheen and Seinfeld Nights, and offering Justin Bieber a contract are just a few of their famed in-game promotions. One of their most memorable moments, however, came when they brought a live Condor on the ice during the National Anthem on February 8, 2013.

The bird elicited many laughs from fans and even garnered international coverage when it decided to take off on its handler, roaming the ice and players bench pre-game.

On the more serious side of things, the Condors have won 25 front office awards from the ECHL as well as three Beautiful Bakersfield Humanitarian Awards for their efforts in the community.

The club has been extremely supportive of the community and the city, raising over $4.6 million in cash and goods for non-profits in Bakersfield and Kern County. Beginning in 2015-16, five NHL teams will relocate their affiliates to California. Along with Bakersfield, San Diego (Anaheim Ducks), Stockton (Calgary Flames), Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) and San Jose (San Jose Sharks) will each have teams in the new Pacific Division.

“The organization is really excited about the move,” said Oilers Assistant General Manager Bill Scott. “When we purchased Bakersfield last January, we knew that this was a possibility. We knew the wheels were in motion by some other NHL teams to move their AHL clubs out west. We were very happy in Oklahoma City, we had a great experience there but we came to the decision with Prodigal (the Oklahoma City Barons operating company) to mutually part ways at the end of our term this year. For us, we were at least mentally set up that if we weren’t able to return to Oklahoma City that we’d have a great place to play in Bakersfield and really be a linchpin in that AHL division with two teams to the south and two teams to the north of us.”

Courtesy: Oil Country Magazine

In addition to helping grow hockey in California, the Oilers are hopeful the Condors will help continue the development model they built in Oklahoma City.

“We feel really good about moving our operations out there, moving our staff out there and players,” said Scott.

“It’s going to really allow us to grow our development program given more practice time and workout time for our guys, cut back on the games a little bit and really focus on the one-on-one individual skills. We think there’s a huge benefit in going out west and we should see some dividends from it down the road.”

The Barons closest opponent was close to six hours away, in Cedar Park, Texas. With five teams in close proximity to one another, the Oilers estimate between 20 to 25 extra practice days in Bakersfield. There may be less games in the schedule for the Pacific Division as well.

“You think about adding another month of development for your team,” said Scott. “That’s an asset to have in your schedule for your players. We see it as an advantage and a huge opportunity for our guys to get better.”

“There’s more time to be on ice and be specific about deficiencies in young players’ games that they can work on,” added Lowe. “You can give them one-on-one drills where they can hone their skills. That’s been lacking due to the amount of games they play in the current league.”

In order to ensure development with their young prospects, the Oilers and the Condors are working on making alterations to the facilities in Bakersfield. The Condors play out of Rabobank Arena which broke ground in 1997. The city and the team are working towards upgrades to help the arena be AHL ready by next season.

“A number of things are going on and they’re obviously still in the embryonic stages, but we need to get some adjustments made with glass and the dasher board system,” said Riley.

“Then down in the locker room we’re expanding it and adding on to it. Obviously, the Oilers want to get their players up and prepared a certain way to be world-class athletes. There are certain things that come with that so we’re in the process of working with local contractors and architects, the City and AEG – our landlord along with the City – to bring all that to a reality. It’s a huge project. It’s transitioning from one league to another and all that comes with it.”

While changes to both the arena and the hockey club are being made in preparation for next season, fans can be assured the core of the Condors will remain the same.

“We’re not going to change anything on the business side of it,” said Scott. “We want to continue to bring a winning product to our AHL city, we want to have great crowds, great fans, which they’ve already done a nice job with in Bakersfield with their ECHL team. And we think that’s only going to grow with the AHL being there with a better level of hockey and also having a lot of California rivalries in there. It’s going to be great for hockey in the state of California.”

So what should we expect from these old-new Condors in the coming years?

“The Oilers have allowed us to still have our autonomy, but also offer the resources and support that they can offer,” said Riley. “It’s really been fantastic and nothing but bigger and better to come.”

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