Crunch time for Kieran

CRASH CAMERON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

Not too many games ago, Kieran Friesen wouldn't have been surprised to be watching the Edmonton Oil Kings' last two games of the regular season from the press box.

That's often the lot in life for a rookie defenceman in the Western Hockey League.

But after wrenching his knee into the boards late in Edmonton's 2-1 win over Lethbridge on Wednesday, that's what the just-turned 17-year-old will be doing for the home-and-home series against the Red Deer Rebels.

"I don't know how long I'll be out or how fast it will heal," said an obviously downcast Friesen as his teammates prepared to take on the Rebels last night (still in progress at press time).

But there was a moment late in January, after being inserted into the lineup, that Friesen might have felt he was going to be watching again.

During a five-goal third-period collapse against the Saskatoon Blades, Friesen had all eyes on him as he attempted to lug the puck out over the Edmonton blue line.

He was stripped of the puck and the Blades padded their lead on the breakaway.

Friesen has clinically erased that particular moment.

"I don't remember," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes."

He was hung out to dry on the play, but he wasn't hung out to dry by the coach.

Kings head coach Steve Pleau even mentioned his name in the post-game interview.

"Do we blame Kieran Friesen?" asked Pleau, before dropping two other names. "No. We let it get away."

Friesen was in the lineup after veteran d-man Adrian Van de Mosselar went down with a broken leg. Then ice-time leader Mark Pysyk lost a few games from a concussion just as the Oil Kings were embarking on a series of road games in the stretch drive for the final playoff spot.

The Oil Kings would need Friesen, who had played just 14 games before Van de Mosselar was hurt. And the rookie bounced back to play solid hockey.

"I did make a few big mistakes there," Friesen said.

"Sometimes they won't say anything, I know that I messed up. It's actually Rocky (Thompson, assistant coach) that tells me, 'Just shake it off, don't worry about it, keep playing your game.'

"They really gave me a chance to prove myself. I was just really lucky to be able to play as many games as I have."

Meanwhile, two other rookies have stepped up as attrition has depleted the Oil Kings' blue line corps.

Local product Henrik Tervonen has played in 31 straight games after missing eight of nine in November and December.

B.C. import Tyler Hlookoff has been a steady fixture in the lineup after being a regular on the healthy-scratch list. It took Hlookoff 21 games to get his first goal. Another 36 games clicked off the schedule before he got his second.

After Wednesday's win over the Hurricanes, Hlookoff had three goals in his last four games.

GM Bob Green knows that injuries are always a factor in a team's season. Although, ideally, you don't have them cropping up right at the end.

"It's not great, no question," said Green, shaking his head. "But injuries are part of the game and everybody goes through stretches with them.

"You've still got to play the games, and that gives opportunities to other guys. At no time do our coaches ever panic and say, 'We're running out of bodies.' It's been like, 'This is what we've got and we're going to try and win with these guys.'

"They've done that and haven't used injuries as an excuse."


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