After nearly two weeks on the road, the Oil Kings returned home to face the Red Deer Rebels. For the team, that road trip through BC and the United States could not have ended soon enough. They began the trip with a 5-1-0 record and return home sitting at 5-6-1.
Were there games that the Oil Kings could have won? Absolutely. You could say there were a couple of games on the trip that they probably deserved to win. But they shot themselves in the foot with bad starts to games, late collapses, and an inability to finish off high-quality chances.
That was evident in the final two games of the road trip. Against Everett, they gave up the first goal of the game, but battled back and actually held a lead for a bit. They would lose the game 5-3 after giving up two goals in the final three minutes of the third. They simply let the game slip away late.
The next night against Seattle, they once again gave up the first goal, but actually outshot Seattle 18-10 in the opening frame. They would battle back from being down 3-1 in the second and tie the game but allowed Seattle to take back the lead, and the momentum, with just 20 seconds to go in the middle frame.
The Thunderbirds tacked on three more in the third and would win the game 7-3.
If there was ever a good situation for the team to snap their skid, it was Friday night at Rogers Place. Finally back on home ice and taking on a Rebels team that they’ve already beaten twice this season.
A slow start would sink them once again in this one as just 68 seconds in, Red Deer already had a 2-0 lead. The seventh straight game where the Oil Kings have allowed their opponents to get the first goal.
“It’s our mindset. You got to come to the rink ready to play right from the puck drop. You can’t take any time adjusting to the game. We have to be ready from the start,” said Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky when asked about his team’s continued slow starts.
“It’s frustrating because it eats up a lot of energy when you have to play catch up. When you’re chasing the game all night, it’s tough to catch up” added Head Coach Brad Lauer.
Just like in other games over the course of the losing streak, Edmonton would actually battle back. At one point in the first period, the shots were 6-0 in favour of Red Deer. The Oil Kings would go on to outshoot the Rebels 20-12 in the opening frame. They absolutely dominated, but couldn’t get one past Ethan Anders, who would go on to stop 41 Oil Kings shots in this one.
Twice the Oil Kings would make it a one-goal game, but each time Red Deer had a response. The Rebels would add an insurance marker in the third period and take this one 5-2.
“We got a couple good looks. We were starting to build momentum and then gave it right back to them. That can’t happen anymore,” added Fix-Wolansky.
This is another game where the Oil Kings probably deserved a better fate. Rebels goalie Ethan Anders was incredible, but Edmonton just straight up missed a handful of wide-open looks and hit a handful of goal posts. Lauer wasn’t going to let that be an excuse.
“It’s part of the game. You have to make your breaks. Nothing is given to you. If you think you’re working hard, you’re not working hard enough,” said the Oil Kings bench boss.
Eight straight losses for the Oil Kings, in which they’ve been outscored 42-23. Another disturbing trend: they’ve been outscored 14-5 in the third period.
It’s a young team, and on most nights you see flashes of a team that has playoff potential. They just have long mental lapses that are absolutely killing them. An eight-game losing streak certainly feels like rock bottom, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re only two games under .500 and they already have their toughest road trip of the year out of the way.
There is plenty of reason to expect things are going to get better.
FIX-WOLANSKY TO TAKE ON RUSSIA
After a dominant start to the season, Trey Fix-Wolansky got some recognition off the ice as earlier this week as the Oil Kings captain was named to Team WHL for the upcoming CIBC Canada Russia Super Series.
“A lot of great players have played in it before and I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the guys and obviously playing to impress Hockey Canada,” said Fix-Wolansky.
Fix, currently fourth in WHL scoring with 19 points, is one of the 12 forwards that will represent the WHL when they play a pair of games against the best junior-aged players from Russia. Some other notable invitees include Vegas Golden Knights first-round pick Cody Glass (6th overall) and New Jersey Devils first rounder Ty Smith (17th overall). Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach, who should both hear their names called very early at the 2019 NHL Draft, will also play for Team WHL.
Game one of the series goes on November 5th in Kamloops, while game two will go November 6th from Vancouver.
NEIGHBOURS AND COSSA GET NOD FROM HOCKEY CANADA
Trey Fix-Wolansky wasn’t the only Oil King getting some recognition from outside the organization. Rookie forward Jake Neighbours and goaltender Sebastien Cossa were both invited to represent Canada at the U17’s next month in New Brunswick.
Cossa, taken in the second round of the 2017 WHL Draft, suffered a broken collarbone late in training camp and hasn’t seen any regular season action yet. Not to speculate too much, but I would imagine once he’s healthy and back from the U17 Challenge, he’ll be sent back to his midget program.
Jake Neighbours getting an invite was expected. The 16-year-old has been slowly becoming one of the Oil Kings most impactful forwards and there’s no doubt he’ll be a star WHL player within the next year.
“It’s a huge honour. I get to put that sweater on for the first time. It’s the first step in the program so I’m looking to go there, impress the Hockey Canada scouts, and continue to move forward in the program,” said Neighbours.
As two are in some elite company as far as Oil Kings go as well. Past players to compete in the U17 challenge include Matt Robertson (2017), Curtis Lazar (2012), Griffin Reinhart (2011), and Mark Pysyk (2009). Three of those players went on the be first round picks in the NHL, and Robertson is likely to do the same.