Short-handed Oil Kings find a way to keep winning

Title: Short-handed Oil Kings find a way to keep winning
Date: December 30, 2012
Original Source: The Edmonton Journal
Synopsis: I am doing a short internship over the holidays at The Edmonton Journal. My latest piece was a pre-game article for a Junior-A hockey game. This article appeared in the Dec. 31 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oil Kings will attempt to close out the 2012 calendar year, which has been kind to them, on a high note Monday at Rexall Place.

The Oil Kings celebrated a Western Hockey League championship in May, the first in the franchise’s five-year modern era history.

Despite a slow start to the 2012-13 season, the Oil Kings got hot and won six of their last seven games to reaffirm their status as one of the league’s best teams. They sport the second-best goals against and sixth-best offence.

Edmonton, 24-8-2-3, currently sits just one point up on the Calgary Hitmen and two points ahead of the Prince Albert Raiders in the Eastern Conference, making each night a statement game for the league’s top teams. The tight standings also mean the Oil Kings can’t look past Monday’s opponent, even though the Brandon Wheat Kings are second from last in the conference with a 13-20-2-2 record.

Game time is 6 p.m.

The Oil Kings remain short-handed due to injuries and player participation in the world junior hockey championship, which has put some stress on the lineup, but created opportunities for other players to step up.

Defencemen Griffin Reinhart and David Musil are in Russia representing Canada and the Czech Republic, respectively, while Martin Gernat remains sidelined with a season-long shoulder injury and Dysin Mayo is at the Under-17 world championship in Quebec.

That leaves the Oil Kings without three of their top-four blue-liners, putting additional pressure on Keegan Lowe, who recently returned from an injury to wear the captain’s “C” while Reinhart is away.

It has also provided an opportunity for Alberta Junior Hockey League players Ben Carroll and Aaron Irving to get a taste of WHL action. Carroll, in particular, has looked strong with a pair of assists in two games since his call-up.

Edmonton has discussed experimenting with rookie forward Brett Pollock on defence during these lean times, as well.

The Oil Kings aren’t quite as thin up front, despite rookie forward Edgars Kulda also being at the world juniors with Latvia. Versatile two-way forward Travis Ewanyk, a faceoff and special teams stalwart, just got back in the lineup after missing six weeks with a sprained knee.

Of course, there’s no such thing as playing at full strength for the top teams at this time of year.

One player the Oil Kings have that they weren’t counting on being around is Laurent Brossoit, the final goalie cut from Team Canada’s world junior squad. While disappointed, Brossoit showed no ill effects from the decision on Friday night when he turned away 29 Red Deer Rebels shots en route to a 6-1 Oil Kings victory.

Brossoit is likely to get the start again Monday, given coach Derek Laxdal’s modus operandi of playing the hot hand between the pipes.

At the other end of the ice, Michael St. Croix will look to continue his strong start alongside Dylan Wruck and T.J. Foster. All three players rank in the top-20 in WHL scoring with 48, 46 and 43 points, respectively.

The Wheat Kings have allowed more goals than any other team in the league, so the Oil Kings’ high-powered unit will have a good a chance to rack up a few more points.

Brandon will be without top scorer Alessio Bertaggia, who is representing Switzerland at the world juniors.

Even with their poor record, the Wheat Kings have a pair of wins over the Moose Jaw Warriors and a victory over Red Deer, which split a back-to-back series with Edmonton last week.

The Oil Kings “were sleeping after the Christmas break,” according to Laxdal, and fell behind 3-0 to the Rebels after only 5-1/2 minutes on Thursday.

“We were challenged by that game, needed to respond and we did step up,” Laxdal said about Edmonton turning the tables on Red Deer 24 hours later.

This matchup is the first of four meetings in the Battle of Kings on tap for the second half of the season. The teams play once more in Edmonton and twice in Brandon.


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