When the second half of the WHL season started, the Oil Kings appeared right in the thick of the race for the Central Division title. The fact they had played a handful more games than Lethbridge and Calgary, the team’s they were directly competing with, was a little deceiving, but still, the fact they were in the conversation was a massive feather in their cap.
It was an up and down first half for the young Oil Kings. They basically just rotated between massive hot streaks and long losing skids. In the second half, the goal was to be more consistent. Bring the same effort on a game in, game out basis and the results would come.
Well, we are now four games into the second half and the results are certainly coming.
They grabbed a 7-3 win over the Calgary Hitmen to kick off a weekend three-in-three. In that game, they had seven different goal scorers and saw 13 players reach the scoresheet. It was a dominant win and they showed they had a killer instinct. When Calgary’s play began to slip up in the second period, the Oil Kings attacked and potted six goals.
Next up was a quick bus ride down to Red Deer to take on the Rebels, a team that they were sitting right next to in the Central Division standings. They went down 1-0 in the third period on a controversial goal which many in the organization voiced their displeasure with the call saying the play was offside.
“It was alarming that (the play) was so badly offside and went uncalled,” was how the play was described to me.
Regardless, the Oil Kings battled back and tied the game in the final five minutes and this game would eventually work its way to a shootout where the Rebels would get the extra point. It was a spirited affair and we saw some the bad blood pour over into their game the next night back at Rogers Place.
I would still describe the Sunday evening game against Red Deer as a spirited affair, it was clear the Oil Kings were feeling the effects of playing three games in three nights.
After grabbing a lead in the first, the Oil Kings fell asleep in the second and were down 3-1 by the time the third period rolled around. That’s when they kicked it up a notch. Andrei Pavlenko got the comeback started with an early marker and although Red Deer would get strike back quick, the Oil Kings continued to pour on the pressure.
Trey Fix-Wolansky, who was called for a pair of questionable penalties during this game, shifted into another gear scoring twice in a four-minute span to even things up.
“Obviously I was pretty angry, but I tried to use that to my advantage,” said the Oil Kings Captain after the game.
Vince Loschiavo would finish things off with a powerplay goal and the Oil Kings would beat the Rebels 5-4 in what was one of the more thrilling and impressive victories of their season.
“That just proves how good we are and how resilient we are,” added Fix-Wolansky.
As for all the bad blood we saw? Learning how to play that style of hockey is a lesson this young team needs to learn and that’s something Fix-Wolansky also touched on after the game.
“This could be a potential playoff matchup so getting used to that kind of intensity and pace is important for us.”
The Oil Kings capped off their busy week with a win over the Vancouver Giants on New Year’s Day. Trey Fix-Wolansky was on another level in this one, scoring a beautiful goal and grabbing an assist in the first period. Dylan Myskiw was strong as well making 34 saves in the victory. He made some huge saves when this game was close.
Apart from the play of those two, it was a snoozefest. Wasn’t a lot of energy in this one. Despite the fact the Oil Kings got outshot by the BC Division leading Giants, they found a way to grab a 3-1 win.
The Oil Kings have been a little banged up as of late, but here are some updates on some important players:
- Matt Robertson left the game in Red Deer with an injury, no timetable has been set for his return but I’ve heard it is not a long-term injury.
- Will Warm is expected to be back within the next week or so after being out since the 5th game of the season.
- Jake Neighbours left the game on Sunday after getting into a fight in the first period. I saw Jake after the game and he appeared to be in good spirits. I’ve also been told that it may not have been the fight that hurt him, instead it was the hit right before the fight. Either way, this shouldn’t be a long-term injury.
THE BALANCE OF SCHOOL AND HOCKEY
Being a student-athlete is hardly news. Lots of players in the WHL are trying to balance their high-school workload with playing in the league but rarely do you see a player trying to squeeze a five-course university workload into their already busy schedule as a major junior hockey player. That’s what Zach Russell was doing during the first half of this season.
At the end of last season, Russell had decided he was done player major junior hockey and decided he wanted to focus on his schooling.
“I enrolled at the University of Victoria back in March and then about two months into school I was just itching to get back onto the ice. I was in touch with Kirt Hill and he said there would be an opportunity to join the team so I took it and I’ve loved it,” said Russell during our chat, “I was always trying to fall asleep at night and couldn’t stop thinking about the game. I’m happy I made the choice to come here.”
Russell joined the Oil Kings on November 17th with about a month to go in his semester. He managed to finish off all his courses online but when exams rolled around, it wasn’t going to be that easy. He would have to go back to Victoria to write a pair of exams in person.
After the Oil Kings game on Wednesday, December 12th in Prince Albert, Russell had a rather busy stretch of 72 hours. It looked like this:
- Got back from Prince Albert at 5am
- Caught a flight at 1pm to Victoria
- Wrote two exams in two days
- Got back into Edmonton at 7am
- Played in a 4pm game that same day
Now, with the stress of being a full-time university student done, Russell can focus on hockey and his game has improved. He’s currently playing some of the best hockey of his Oil Kings career. He kicked off the second half of the season by scoring a goal and an assist against the Calgary Hitmen and was named the first star of the game.
As for his schooling, he isn’t completely forgetting about it. He’s still going to be taking one course this semester, just to keep himself sharp.