To say this years Edmonton Oil Kings have been streaky would be, well, completely accurate. After starting the year with five consecutive wins, they dropped eight straight contests and now they’re riding a four-game winning streak.
If things keep going like this, it might drive Head Coach Brad Lauer to insanity.
When you look at the season as a whole, it’s felt like a successful start. The team has a winning record and right now, they’re playing some of their best hockey.
Last weekend was a tough test for the young Oil Kings as they played three games in three nights. Starting on Friday in Cranbrook, BC. The Oil Kings got off to a strong start, scoring seven unanswered goals in the first 40 minutes en route to a 7-2 win over the Ice.
On a lot of nights this year, it’s felt like Trey Fix-Wolansky has been pulling the entire offense by himself. That wasn’t the case last Friday as the team got goals from seven different players. In fact, all but five players dressed managed to get a point.
The team then took the roughly seven-hour bus ride home for a Saturday night matchup with the Saskatoon Blades. This one was all Oil Kings once again. They outshot the Blades 45-25 and walked away with a well earned 5-2 victory.
Quinn Benajfield chipped in a pair of goals, which was a welcome sign. After a slow start to his Oil Kings career, the veteran WHL forward is starting to get some confidence going and it’s showing on the scoresheet.
The ‘three-in-three’ concluded with a game on Sunday evening against the Lethbridge Hurricanes who, like the Oil Kings, are expected to be fighting for a playoff spot right up until the end of the season.
The Oil Kings offense continued to produce, striking six times including once shorthanded. While the theme of the first two wins was scoring by committee, tonight it was the top line doing the bulk of the scoring.
Benjafield would add another two goals while Fix-Wolansky posted four points and rookie Jake Neighbours grabbed two goals and an assist.
The combo of Neighbours and Fix-Wolansky has really been clicking lately and I don’t expect it to slow down any time soon. The two have a natural chemistry and it seems that they really enjoy playing together.
“He’s just so easy to play with,” said Neighbours after the game, adding, “I just try to go to the net and bang pucks in.”
Over the past five years, the Oil Kings have played in 12 ‘three-in-three’ sets and haven’t swept come away with three wins once, until last weekend.
“We’re starting to find our way,” said Neighbours, “We got a little confidence under our belt and guys just started rolling”.
It’s encouraging to see the team shake off their lengthy eight-game slump and respond with a winning streak of their own. Adversity often brings teams closer together, and I think that’s been happening within the organization.
“To know that we can compete through adversity is big for our confidence,” concluded Neighbours.
During that losing skid, it felt like no matter how well the team played, they weren’t able to get the bounces. There were nights that they deserved a better fate, but left the rink with a loss. It’s quite the opposite now as it feels like every chance the team has is ending up in the back of the net. They have more confidence right now then I’ve seen them have all season.
“The games funny like that. We went through that road trip where it felt like nothing was going our way. We got a few goals that maybe we didn’t deserve but that starts to fuel you,” said Assistant Coach Luke Pearce, adding how important confidence is at the junior level.
Right now, the Oil Kings sit at 9-7-1, which puts them second in the Central Division, just two points back of the Red Deer Rebels who do have two games in hand.
For the second time this season, the team will go through a road-heavy stretch of their schedule. While it isn’t one long road trip like the one earlier in the season, they won’t play another game at Rogers Place until November 17th.
This time around, the team feels better equipped to handle the rigours of the road.
“It’s in the preparation. How we handle being in the hotel, meals, and all those little things that the guys go through,” said Luke Pearce, “we learned a lot on that first trip. Hopefully, we can apply that.”
The Oil Kings at home compared to the Oil Kings on the road have painted two wildly different pictures.
In eight home games, Edmonton is 6-3-0, outscoring their opposition 37-22. On the road, they are 3-5-1 and have been outscored 40-35.
While no game on the road is easy, especially at the junior level where you’re sitting on the bus for long stretches at a time, the team will get two favourable matchups to start the trip.
Tonight, they’re in Regina to take on a Pats team that has really struggled as of late. They currently sit second last in the WHL’s eastern conference. The Pats have also lost five of their last six.
It’s also expected, as per the teams’ play-by-play voice Andrew Peard, that 2018 first overall pick Dylan Guenther will make his WHL regular season debut in this contest. The 15-year-old has had a strong start to his season with the Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep Program, notching 25 points in 12 games.
They’ll finish the second set of back-to-backs tomorrow from Swift Current. While the Broncos are just a few months removed from an appearance in the Memorial Cup, they’ve mustered just one win in 14 games this season. They went all in for a WHL Championship last year, and their organization is really paying for it right now.
As I said, you never want to “schedule a win” on the road, but given the way the Oil Kings are playing right now and the quality of their opposition, I think it’s reasonable to expect them to return home on Sunday morning with a six-game winning streak intact.