If someone would have told them back in September that their season would end after game six of the Eastern Conference Final, the Edmonton Oil Kings probably would have been very happy to take that outcome. But that doesn’t eliminate the sting of being eliminated on home ice.
Were they favoured in their matchup against the Prince Albert Raiders? No, but to call them underdogs isn’t exactly accurate.
“We belong here. Everyone in that room believes it. Other people might say we’re the underdogs but we don’t believe that one bit,” proclaimed Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky after the teams win in game three.
They believed they were good enough to beat the Raiders, the Oil Kings racked up more points than Prince Albert in the second half of the season, and they backed up their talk forcing the Raiders to a sixth game.
The fact they were right in this series makes it sting even more for the Oil Kings. After finding a way to split the first two games of the series in Prince Albert, the Oil Kings returned home and delivered a strong performance in game three. All of a sudden they had a lead in the series and the Raiders were on their heels.
“Getting that split in the first four games was huge for us. Many people didn’t think that would happen,” added Fix-Wolansky.
Game four went the next night and it presented the Oil Kings with a tremendous opportunity to grab a stranglehold on the series. Instead, it was the turning point that the Raiders needed. While Edmonton was expecting the best from their opposition, they didn’t get it. Neither team brought their ‘A’ game and in the end, Prince Albert won a game that I felt was a bit of a snooze-fest. If the Oil Kings would have brought 75% of what they did in game three, they likely would have been heading back the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert with a 3-1 series lead.
That wasn’t the case and the Raiders did a good job of protecting home ice in game five, simply suffocating the Oil Kings attack en route to a 4-0 victory.
That’s when the officiating in this series started to become a headline. The Raiders got three looks with the man advantage while the Oil Kings didn’t get any. That angered Head Coach Brad Lauer, who publicly called out the refs after the game.
The frustration continued in game six. In the first 40 minutes, the Raiders were given five powerplays while Edmonton got just one. Don’t get me wrong, the Oil Kings deserved to get called on four of those infractions, but it was ridiculous to see the Raiders get away with what they did. Edmonton was taking retaliatory penalties that wouldn’t have been needed if the referees called the initial infraction on the Raiders.
But that’s not always how hockey works and the Oil Kings needed to do a better job of staying out of the box. Their lack of discipline was the sole reason they trailed 3-1 halfway through the game.
Things started to change once Trey Fix-Wolansky cranked his game up to another level. In the second period, he absolutely steamrolled Kaiden Guhle in the corner and then proceeded to fire home a clutch goal.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 28, 2019
Fix-Wolansky was the heartbeat of this team all season long and on Sunday, in what may have been his final game in an Oil Kings jersey, he was as good and as motivated as I’ve ever seen him.
“He understood the situation. It was win or go home and he put the team on his back. That’s the type of character he is. He did not want this to be his last game.” said Head Coach Brad Lauer after the game.
The officiating began to even out in the third period with the Oil Kings getting three straight looks with the man advantage. They got close but just could not catch a break. Raiders goalie Ian Scott robbed Vince Loschiavo twice with cross-crease saves, stoned Fix-Wolansky once, and got bailed out by the crossbar once. For the Oil Kings, it was clear that it wasn’t meant to be.
The season ended in disappointing fashion, but it was a hell of a run. No one expected this team to go from dead last in the Central Division, to first place. No one expected this team to turn into a legitimate championship contender.
“I don’t think anyone thought we would be here. We exceeded expectations but that’s what you have to do to be successful. Looking back on it and how far we’ve come, it’s pretty special., That’s a really special group in there.” concluded Fix-Wolansky, who fought back tears during his post-game media availability.
The loss stings for now, but the future is bright for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Names like Fix-Wolansky, Benjafield, and Loschiavo will move on but expect the likes of Jake Neighbours, Matt Robertson, David Kope, and Vlad Alistrov to lead this team for what should be a very exciting few years on junior hockey in Edmonton.