Oil Kings ready to rumble

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

The Edmonton Oil Kings are ready for some competition.

A junior hockey team can only practise so much before getting the itch to hit somebody else.

This weekend the Western Hockey League expansion squad gets their chance by hosting a six-team exhibition tournament at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert.

"We've talked a lot about systems, but really the most important thing is work ethic, competitiveness, second and third efforts," said Oil Kings head coach Steve Pleau.

"It's hard to get a good gauge in the scrimmages. You see some of it, but what I want to see is the older guys and everybody competing as a group. I want to see that competitiveness, that pride and that intensity that we need to have."

The Oil Kings play their first game this afternoon at 3 when they take on the Kelowna Rockets. The Kamloops Blazers open the event (11 a.m.) against the Regina Pats. The Prince George Cougars then wrap up the day against the Swift Current Broncos.

The Oil Kings play the Blazers tomorrow and wind up the event against the Cougars on Monday.

"Considering we haven't really had that many practices, I think we've meshed pretty well together as a team," said Oil Kings hopeful Elias Grossman.

"This weekend is going to show the coaches how well we have come together over the past week."

With more than 30 players still on the roster, the tournament will be mainly an evaluation tool for the Oil Kings.

CHANCE TO IMPRESS

The plan is to give players on the bubble a lot of ice time to give them a chance to impress the coaches.

"As a coach you always say that, then you get behind the bench and it gets competitive and you want to win, so you play your best players," Pleau said.

"We'll make sure all of the guys get into different situations -- situations that we feel they may play a role on our team."

With essentially an older group of players in camp, the Oil Kings should fare well against their opponents at the event. Whether that translates into regular-season success, however, remains to be seen.

Defensively the Oil Kings are expected to be strong, yet without proven scorers in their lineup, they'll need former role players to pick up the slack offensively.

"I think at least the first two or three games are for evaluation, then you go from there," Pleau said. "As you get into next week, we'll get a feel where we're at.

"We have five 20-year-olds and that's an advantage. And it's good that they feel a sense of pride, a sense that we have a chance to build something from the bottom up here and establish a culture of hard work.

"I think they want to be a part of that and that's a good feeling."

In the Rockets, the Oil Kings are facing a squad that struggled last season finishing with a 22-41-5-4 record and out of the WHL playoffs.

The Blazers finished second in the B.C. Division but were upset in the first round of the playoffs.

The Cougars finished third in the B.C. Division and fell to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Vancouver Giants in the Western Conference final.

"We still have 34 guys on our roster right now and I'm pretty sure the other teams will have just as many," Grossman said. "I think it'll be an indication of how competitive we can be, but the regular season is a lot different than exhibition."

For Pleau and assistant coach Rocky Thompson, this weekend marks the first time they'll take their respective positions behind the bench.

COACHED IN PROS

Pleau served as an assistant coach with the Spokane Chiefs last season, but is in his first season as a head coach in the league. Thompson is coaching for the first time following a professional career.

"It's going to be fun. That's what you coach for," Pleau said. "I love to be behind the bench during games, that's what it's all about, the competitiveness, and trying to work the guys through those adverse situations and trying to pull out a win."


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