What an experience

CRASH CAMERON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

I'm not going to use the "C" word.

These are teenagers.

So accuse me of being a sportswriter wimping out to keep things harmonious.

But I'd just feel like a bad hockey dad screaming at the coaches and refs from behind the glass.

These are teenagers.

The Edmonton Oil Kings needed a single point out of two games against the not-mighty-this-season Red Deer Rebels to clinch a playoff spot. As you know -- and why they are playing in a-jammed-to-the-rafters arena in Prince Albert tonight -- is they didn't get one.

I will draw a fine line and use a baseball analogy to describe the 0-for-4-points weekend: some of them were choking up on their bats and were left standing at the plate as a few fastballs flew past.

"Learning experience" is a phrase I heard from Oil Kings GM Bob Green, head coach Steve Pleau and more than one of the veteran players several times.

"It's a tough situation to be in for these guys," said Pleau after Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Rebels, forcing tonight's one-game tiebreaker.

"It's not a lack of motivation, it's not a lack of care, it's not a lack of effort, what it is is a lack of maturity - how to deal with that situation, get your arms around it."

Not an excuse, because the comment came right after Pleau said, "To win you have to go get it. We didn't do that."

The Oil Kings are one of the youngest teams in the league. They started the season with the youngest defence in the league. And needed every one of those youngsters after losing veteran Adrian Van de Mosselaer for the season and then Mark Pysyk -- although a 16-year-old rookie himself, the St. Albert product is already the present on the Kings' blueline, as well as the future -- was out for a few games as the playoff drive began in earnest.

I asked Green on Friday, before the home-and-home set began, if he was secretly smiling that his second-year franchise was going through this, whatever the end result.

"That's the nice thing about it," said Green. "Those kids have contributed a lot. They've had to. Because of the injuries we've gone through, a lot of them have been thrown into the fire.

"And they're making the best of it. That kind of experience is invaluable - and should make us, hopefully, a better hockey club next year."

"They feel pressure, they know what's at stake and they want to be successful. It has been tense at times but they've battled through that.

"Sometimes maybe youth is a good thing - ignorance is bliss! They don't really know what they're doing, they're just playing hockey like kids.

"So maybe that's helped them a little bit, too."

And there really should be a long-term benefit to the players like Pysyk and the other 16s like T.J. Foster and Kieran Friesen, and the 17s and 18s who should be team leaders and veterans in the next two years, like Michael Burns, Rhett Rachinski and Clayton Cumiskey among others.

That's not to say Green, Pleau or any of the players were smiling Sunday night at the prospect of adding to the learning experience with a 73rd game.


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