The Oil Kings currently sit just three points out of dead last, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by being around the team lately.
They’re 4-1-1 in their last six games, and they’re getting points against some good, and hungry, hockey teams. Their one regulation loss over this stretch was against the Vancouver Giants, a game where they deserved better than a 2-1 loss. Edmonton outshot them by a combined 25-8 over the final 40 minutes and if it wasn’t for a bad bounce that led to Tyler Benson’s first-period goal, they likely grab at least a point.
This young team deserves a ton of credit for the way they’ve battled through a tough stretch of schedule and managed to stay competitive night in and night out.
“This month is the hardest of the year, we’re on the road for two-thirds of it. I’ve slept in my own bed for two nights all month” said veteran forward Kobe Mohr “We’re tired, but we’re finding a way each and every night to stay in games”.
You could tell there wasn’t a lot of gas left in the tank when they faced Saskatoon on Family Day. Edmonton had just three shots on goal by the halfway point of the second period and clearly didn’t have their legs. But, they managed to keep the game close despite some bad bounces and grab two goals in the final eight minutes, including a powerplay marker by Trey Fix-Wolansky.
They eventually lost the game in overtime, but it says about this team that they were able to find a way to gut out a comeback, even when it appeared that they have nothing left in the tank.
Coach Steve Hamilton felt the same following the loss “We continue to find a way to stay in the fight, even when we don’t have much left physically”.
I know I may be coming off as a bit of a homer with all the positive talk about a team that could be sitting in last place if Calgary wins their games in hand, but I think the leaders and coaching staff have done a great job keeping the atmosphere positive around a young group.
“We just control what we can control and don’t focus too much on the opposition,” said Kobe Mohr.
I loved that quote from Mohr, and I think it shows that this team has the right mindset as they close out another losing season. This year was never going to be about winning in my mind, it was about growing and doing things the right way. There have been some very tough stretches, but this last positive run and been a great step forward.
In terms of developing, this year has been a success.
As the year has progressed, a big reason why the Oil Kings have continued to get more and more competition if the growth of their next wave of young talent.
Connor McDonald posted six points in six games and as his offensive game continues to develop, he’ll be a very valuable piece on this blueline.
Liam Keeler went on a three-game point streak and it’s clear that the experience of a full season in the WHL will be very valuable to the 17-year-old.
Brett Kemp and David Kope now look like they’ll be top nine, or even top-six options next season.
A lot of credit to the play of veterans like Colton Kehler and Tomas Soustal as well, who have continued to produce at high rates, even as their WHL careers come to a close.
There are lots of reasons to watch this team down the stretch of this season, even though there isn’t much on the line in terms of playoffs.
They’ll be back in action this weekend when they kick off a run of three games in three nights on Friday down in Calgary.