Hurricanes hard to handle in home rink

Title: Hurricanes hard to handle in home rink
Date: January 2, 2013
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 Jan. 3 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

EDMONTON – Having finished off 2012 with a bang on Monday, the Edmonton Oil Kings will look to start off 2013 on the right foot, as well.

The Oil Kings head to Lethbridge to face the Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Enmax Centre, the site of perhaps Edmonton’s worse loss of the Western Hockey League season. Back on Dec. 5, the Hurricanes thumped the listless Oil Kings 6-2.

Edmonton stumbled again the next night, a 5-2 home loss to the Calgary Hitmen.

“Last time we didn’t come ready,” said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal, “and they beat us 6-2. I don’t think we were sharp in there.

“We made some mental mistakes. They’re a good young club and they’ll sting you if you do that. We have to understand that we can’t get caught puck-watching.”

The Oil Kings turned things around after that pair of losses, and ended the year by winning seven of their final eight games. The hot streak solidified Edmonton as the top team in the Eastern Conference, three points up on Calgary and four up on the Prince Albert Raiders.

More impressively, the Oil Kings got back on track while playing short-handed. Captain Griffin Reinhart is in Russia with Team Canada in the world junior hockey championship, while fellow defenceman David Musil is with the Czech Republic and rookie forward Edgars Kulda is with Latvia.

In addition, Dysin Mayo is playing in the world under-17 championship in Quebec and last year’s top-scoring defenceman, Martin Gernat, isn’t due back for a couple of weeks following shoulder surgery.

The thinning out of the roster, especially on the blue-line, has forced players to step into bigger roles. Ben Carroll and Aaron Irving were called up from the Alberta Junior Hockey League, while Cody Corbett and Ashton Sautner have been given heavier workloads.

“They’ve gotta learn how to play,” said Laxdal. “You’ve got to put them in those pressure situations. That’s how they improve.”

Keegan Lowe, who is wearing the captain’s “C” while Reinhart is away, has been tasked with additional leadership responsibilities and he’s been impressed with how the young players have responded to the opportunities.

“It doesn’t really matter who we’re missing,” said Lowe. “We’ve still got 20 guys on the ice and we’re having good team efforts. Guys are stepping up where they’re not usually playing and they’re doing a good job of it.”

The 20-players comment may not hold true on Thursday, though, as the Oil Kings will play with just five defencemen. Carroll, who was on loan from the Sherwood Park Crusaders, has returned to his AJHL team, but will be back for Edmonton’s home game Saturday. Stephane Legault will also be a game-time decision with a lower-body injury.

Carroll’s absence Thursday means an even bigger opportunity for Irving, who was the Oil Kings’ first-round draft pick in 2011.

“I played with Irv twice,” said Lowe. “It seems like he’s been playing on the team all year.”

The Lethbridge game will be a solid test, as the Hurricanes sit fifth in the conference with a 19-17-1-4 record. They’re also tough to beat in their own arena, where they’re 13-11 and have outscored opponents by 12 goals.

“It’s a tough building to play in,” said Laxdal. “They’re a tough club and they play every team hard.”

Even though the Oil Kings have more firepower up front, with four players ranking in the WHL’s top 20 in scoring, Lethbridge sports a balanced attack and is also one of the better offensive teams in the league.

“We’ve got to play road hockey,” said Laxdal. “Stay out of the (penalty) box and minimize turnovers, give ourselves a chance to win.”

The starting goaltender for the game hasn’t been named yet, but signs point to Laurent Brossoit getting his third consecutive start. Brossoit has allowed just three goals despite facing 54 shots since being the final goaltender cut from the Team Canada junior roster.

The Oil Kings return home to host the Vancouver Giants at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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