Oil Kings go the unconventional route

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, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Statistically, his rookie season wasn't about to win him any awards.

But it was a pair of overtimes that led to Rhett Rachinski being awarded the captaincy of the Edmonton Oil Kings yesterday.

One was obvious: Game 73 tiebreaker, winner goes to the playoffs. Rachinski turns the lights out on the Prince Albert Raiders' season, depositing the winner nine minutes into OT and keeping the candle burning on the Oil Kings' campaign.

The second one happened behind a closed door.

"Last year -- I believe it was Game 66 -- and we were in Swift Current," said head coach Steve Pleau, about to explain why the Oil Kings went the less-obvious route of choosing an 18-year-old sophomore instead of a 19- or 20-year-old to lead the team.

"At that point we were battling for that last playoff spot and emotions were high. We got into overtime, played a really good hockey game (in a) tough environment. We lost a heartbreaking faceoff with about nine seconds to go and Swift scored to beat us 3-2.

"Rocky (Thompson, assistant coach) and I walked into the back and all hell was breaking loose in the locker-room," said Pleau, with a laugh and a smile.

"Guys were going at each other pretty good. Which is good. You want to see that people care. But the one voice that I heard stand out and really calmed that locker-room down was Rhett's.

"And from that day on we had our eyes on him."

As a rookie, Rachinski willingly took dirty-work roles and dug in defensively, not worrying about offensive stats.

But he's had Cs in his background as well as makeup. Including -- in a bit of foreshadowing -- for a couple of this year's preseason games.

"Obviously it's hard to step into a new situation and have people's respect right off the bat," the Edmontonian said of his rookie season. "You kind of have to develop it and earn it.

"At that point, you need to look up to other people," he said, specifically naming last year's co-captains Jeff Lee and Brenden Dowd.

"Coming in last year there was a lot of new things for me, but they were great leaders and I absolutely looked up to them. What they did for me is going to help translate into what I can hopefully do for other guys.

"It's a huge honour. Hopefully I can be as good, if not better, as they were."

Leadership qualities have been part of general manager Bob Green's game plan in building this franchise.

"In our first year, we thought we had more guys that could lead than we actually had," he said. "Now, when we went through our selection process, we probably found that we had more guys than we thought we'd have. So that's a good situation. It was a difficult thing to pick. But that doesn't mean other guys that didn't get (letters) can't lead at certain times. We need that out of everybody."

Pleau's on board with that.

"I think that your leadership is spread throughout your roster. I think you'll see in the leadership group we've chosen (Brett Breitkreuz, Tomas Vincour and Brent Raedeke will all wear As) there is some diversity there, and it's not just the 20-year-olds. That's a positive thing and it's great for the future as well."

DAVID.CAMERON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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