Talk about depleted

CRASH CAMERON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

At least they didn't make him wear those goofy glasses.

Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Tyler Hlookoff was part of a 3-D spectacle on the Oil Kings' banged-up blue-line that he doesn't want to see again any time soon.

After successive penalties in a loss to the Saskatoon Blades last week, a five-man defensive rotation had been narrowed down to three -- the 19-year-old Hlookoff and rookies Keegan Lowe and Braeden Laroque holding down the fort.

"We had three 'D' rolling and we were all just gassed," said the native of Castlegar, B.C., yesterday before practice at Kenilworth Arena.

"We did everything we could, even having forwards playing back."

Two minutes after veteran d-man Drew Nichol was sent off for 17 minutes for sticking up for a teammate, Adrian Van de Mosselaer was baited by six-foot-five Randy McNaught -- who had taken liberties in the first period -- into doing the same. A noble thought, poorly timed. Although help may return tonight in the form of Henrik Tervonen and possibly even Mark Pysyk, Hlookoff has been getting a bulk of the ice time, whether it comes at times he doesn't want or need it.

"So far, I've had the opportunity with more ice time than I've usually had, and seeing more opportunities on the PP, the PK, playing against the top lines. It's been three or four games now. It gets tough, but it is a good opportunity. We have to battle through it, but once we get healthy we'll be back to rolling six guys again, so you won't see as much ice time as we are now."

Hlookoff has been steady during the penalty kill and five-on-five, but he has struggled on the Oil Kings' anemic power play.

"The PK, our mindset is aggressive and we've been doing a good job getting on the puck, pressuring the points (and) in the corners we have two guys after the puck," Hlookoff said.

"The PP, we are struggling. We've just got to find a way to score some goals, where we just own the power play, get some more shots through and that."

T.J. Foster should be getting more and more ice time up front, as no sooner as he's got his wind back, Michael Burns is the latest King on the shelf.

"The first game back I was pretty winded," said Foster, 17, who is from Slave Lake. "I didn't get much conditioning time, so that was tough. But once you get into game shape you're fine. The next game was easier and the last game, yeah, I felt good."

Now he has to see who he'll be playing alongside.

"We're all over the place right now," said Foster. "We're just trying to find some scoring and chemistry, so I don't really know if it matters."

Foster was put into a variety of roles last season as a rookie, so he's used to different linemates.

"We mix up lines a lot. Usually you'll stick with a partner, like a winger you'll have chemistry with. Burnsie is a tough loss, but we've just got to battle through it. We've been battling injuries all year.

"But we're not going to stop now."

DAVID.CAMERON@SUNMEDIA.CA

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CALGARY HITMEN

Brandon Kozun, C, #15

"Still one of the top players in the league. Tops the scoring in the WHL with 23 points after he had 108 last year," says Oil Kings play-by-play man A.J. Jakubec. "Good speed, real shifty, tremendous skill."

HITMEN WATCH

"I think the transition has been pretty seamless with the coaching change (from new Flames assistant Dave Lowry to Mike Williamson)," says Jakubec. "I'm not sure they are as deep a team as they were last year, but they certainly are very talented with a strong core still.

"A guy like Michael Stone has stepped up to a leadership role on the defence," Jakubec said of the six-foot-four 19-year-old.

"Up front, you've got Kozun (see above), Ian Schultz is a top physical two-way player and you've got (Kris) Foucault, who's a solid, skilled guy."

Foucault was a breakout player in the playoffs and has translated that into the new season. Nineteen-year-old Tyler Fiddler appears to be the breakout guy this year.

"He's been a real surprise with nine goals so far after scoring three last year."

DeWinton's Michael Snider has posted league-leading numbers between the pipes while veteran Martin Jones was on the DL.

"Much like the Oil Kings (with Torrie Jung and Cam Lanigan), they've got a pretty good 1-2 punch there," said Jakubec.

Jones was back on the bench during the Hitmen's 4-0 shutout over the Kings on Wednesday and may start tonight.

"I expect them to again battle for the top spot in the conference and maybe the league."

A.J. JAKUBEC IS THE PLAY-BY-PLAY VOICE OF THE OIL KINGS ON TEAM 1260

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EDMONTON OIL KINGS

Rhett Rachinski, C, #20

Getting his legs back after an injury, the Kings' first-year captain can take this opportunity to provide his sputtering team with an energetic performance against the big, bad southern rivals.

KINGS CRUNCH

Injuries happen. And then they happen and happen.

Welcome to the Oil Kings' early season circumstance.

It doesn't make it easy to keep lines together. Or to juggle ice time among five defencemen.

"It's kind of like a puzzle. We're moving things in and out and trying to find the healthy pieces," head coach Steve Pleau said yesterday.

Michael Burns is the latest forward to go down, injured in Wednesday's 4-0 loss at Calgary. If that isn't bad enough news up front, Pleau had used Burns for a few shifts on the blue-line when penalties further depleted his corps.

"We used (Brent) Raedeke, but he was minus-1 on that one shift so we decided to go to Burns," Pleau laughed.

Midget call-up Ryan Dech played Wednesday before returning to Winnipeg, but Pleau hopes Henrik Tervonen (shoulder) can lace up tonight.

Up front, he might get some help from 19-year-old Josh Roper, acquired from the Medicine Hat Tigers yesterday.

But injuries aren't the immediate problem for Pleau.

"What we have have to focus on is, to compete to win, blocking out those outside distractions. I didn't question our 'compete' level (Wednesday) -- the one thing I did question was our mental toughness. No matter what situation you're in, you play to win."


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