As David Koch fired his shootout attempt over the net, it not only sealed up another Oil Kings loss, it also marked the unofficial end to the first half of the 2017-2018 season as the WHL headed into its winter break.
While it goes down as a loss in the standings, there was a lot for the young Oil Kings to be proud of Saturday night. Once again they fought back from a multi-goal deficit late in the game, this time scoring twice in the final seven minutes and even coming within inches of winning the game in the final minute. They skated and battled with a Medicine Hat team that has carved out an identity as one of the quickest groups in the league but once again, they came up short.
“A loss is never easy, but we were proud of our effort,” said the team’s 20-year-old captain Colton Kehler following the defeat, “Our energy was great (from) start to finish tonight”.
That first part of that quote from Kehler is something that I feel really sums up the season thus far. There have been many nights where the young and often scrappy Edmonton group put forward their best effort but were simply the second best team on the ice. They play well and look competitive, but at the end of the night, they simply don’t have the skill or experience to pull out a win in a close game.
At first, the continual losing was frustrating, but now we’re at a point in the season where the emphasis is no longer on the result but rather on the how the result was reached, something Head Coach Steve Hamilton touched on following the game.
“We’re playing with the idea to grow and develop our players,” said Hamilton, “Where we got ourselves is not gonna change, what we do from here is important”.
There’s no sense in looking back for the Oil Kings, they’ve learned their lessons and simply need to continue to look towards the future with the playoffs seemingly out of the picture.
Despite the poor record, there were still bright spots and some players that fans should be keeping a close eye on as the season continues to roll forward.
On the back-end, Matthew Robertson is looking more and more like the real deal. He’s only 16-years-old and on any given night he looks like a top-tier d-man. Watching him grow into an elite WHL player should be something that excites fans.
Up front, they have some good young talent and one player that’s been continually impressing me as of late is Brett Kemp. The 17-year-old got his feet wet last year after he was acquired from the Everett Silvertips but as this year has progressed, he’s continued to show that he can be an impact forward.
He only has two points in his last five games, but despite the lack of offense, he’s been one of the most noticeable Oil Kings recently. He skates very well, creates chances and even though he’s on the younger side, he isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas. I know that’s a major cliche, but it stands out on this team.
He’s not only gaining confidence and the trust of Head Coach Steve Hamilton, which is leading to an expanded role.
“Getting my toes wet last year helped a lot. Coming in as a second-year player I knew I could kind of build a bigger role on the team and I think I’ve done that” said Kemp following Saturday’s loss to Medicine Hat.
The wins and losses don’t really matter anymore, but there are reasons to head down and keep a close eye on this team. It will honestly be fun to watch some of the young talent develop and grow into a winning WHL team.
The Oil Kings are back in action on December 27th and 28th when they play a home and home against the Red Deer Rebels.