February 25, 2011
Oil Kings in playoff hunt
By CRASH CAMERON, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - He would have liked to have been able to say the same thing last season.
But Edmonton Oil Kings GM Bob Green was happy to be saying it Friday: "We're right where we wanted to be, where we thought we would be."
That is, in the thick of a playoff hunt.
"We've got important games coming up but we're in a good situation."
With Moose Jaw a virtual lock to play the fourth-place team in the WHL's East — Kootenay and Medicine Hat are currently tied in points — the Oil Kings are fighting with Brandon, Prince Albert and Lethbridge for the right to face the big dogs with Saskatoon and Red Deer at the top.
After this Friday-Saturday road-and-home set with the Hurricanes, the Kings face each of the Blades, Rebels and Tigers twice, and the Ice once as the regular season closes.
"Overall, (this season) we've been very competitive," said Green.
"I like the job our coaches have done with the kids. We've been well prepared game in and game out."
Head coach Derek Laxdal can be surprisingly blunt in naming names after bad games, but doesn't hold a grudge or build permanent doghouses.
Steve Hamilton has been in a good situation in making an adjustment from a highly successful AJHL head coach to an assistant coach in the Dub.
There's been times when you might expect the coaches to peel the paint in the dressing room after soft first and second periods, but they'll dial up the 'You can do this' approach, which might explain this team being the Comeback Kings.
They've done it in spectacular fashion twice to the Prince George Cougars and last Wednesday they kicked the down-and-out Calgary Hitmen with five goals in the third.
That's a slippery slope, though.
"That's not always the situation you want to be in," said Green. "But our guys never give up. They play hard until the bitter end.
"We've been able to survive on a few occasions like that. It's something you don't want to bank on, but it certainly shows that these kids have some resiliency."
It's also the kind of game that can cause hairs on the heads of GMs and coaches to turn gray.
"Or fall out, or both," agreed Green. "Like I say, we have the ability to score and play hard until the end, but you've got to be able to put 60 minutes together, too. Especially this time of the year."
When the season turned to suck for the Oil Kings last year, it did give Green the second-overall pick in the WHL bantam draft.
It was a mild surprise when he chose B.C. forward Curtis Lazar.
Lazar's profile went nuclear last week with his all-around performance in the U-16 tourney at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, leading the Left Coasters with a hat-trick performance in the gold-medal game while wearing the C.
Defenceman Mason Geertsen, taken with a second first-round pick, picked up a bronze in Halifax with Alberta.
With rookie D-man Griffin Reinhart and slick forward T.J. Foster suffering injuries, the Kings could use some reinforcements.
But Green isn't cheering for early playoff exits for his top two midget squads (Geertsen with Sherwood Park and Lazar with Okanagan Academy).
"They are in good situations where they are. They are key components for teams that are playing playoff hockey and that's going to be a big part of their development. And the longer they can go, the better it is for them."