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Oil Kings & Hit­men will be tired of each other by New Year’s

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - JIM MATHE­SON jmath­e­[email protected]­media.com @Nhlbymatty

Tale of Two Ri­val­ries. The Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings play the Cal­gary Hit­men eight times by the end of De­cem­ber and they’re done for the rest of the WHL sea­son while the NHL Oil­ers and the Flames don’t see each other un­til Dec. 27.

Go fig­ure. Va­garies of the ju­nior sched­ule-maker. Or crazi­ness of the WHL com­puter mak­ing it up

Not only that but Brad Lauer’s Oil Kings have played nine games, Steve Hamil­ton’s Hit­men five with a sec­ond meet­ing Satur­day at Rogers Place af­ter the Hit­men beat them 4-3 in OT Sept. 27 in Cal­gary.

Again, the sea­son is only three weeks deep but the Oil Kings have played more road games (six) than the Hit­men have played to­tal games. Wel­come to a silly league where, again, the two ju­nior di­vi­sional ri­vals, who met in the play­offs last spring in round 1, are fin­ished be­fore 2020 starts.

The Oil Kings (5-1-3) will have 32 games to play and the Hit­men (4-0-1) 35.

“We’re done Dec. 30 and don’t play them again,” said Lauer, with the clubs playing four times in De­cem­ber where fa­mil­iar­ity will prob­a­bly breed con­tempt by then, eight head-to-head matchups in.

“These games are im­por­tant right now be­cause we don’t have any against each other on the back half of the sched­ule for the di­vi­sion.”

“I think both teams would agree it would be nice to see each other af­ter the trade dead­line (Jan­uary) but with a healthy dose of com­pe­ti­tion it’s go­ing to get amped up,” the former Oil Kings head coach Hamil­ton. “Playing eight of the first 30-some­thing is a chance for im­por­tant di­vi­sional points.”

The Oil Kings had their way with the Hit­men in 20182019, but that was then.

“Last year we kind of had their num­ber but they made some changes. They’re a lit­tle deeper on the back end and re­turned a lot of guys, like us,” said Lauer.

“Last year they tran­si­tioned bet­ter than we did. The ma­tu­rity of our group has grown, to a man, and we’re start­ing from a bet­ter foun­da­tion this sea­son,” said Hamil­ton. “We have 17 guys re­turn­ing and we added Jett Woo (an of­fen­sive D from the Moose Jaw War­riors who was drafted by the Canucks), which was a pretty mas­sive get at the bantam draft. He’s a pre­mier guy in the league and we move the puck bet­ter than we did a year ago.”

The Oil Kings and Van­cou­ver have played the most WHL games, at nine. The Hit­men, mean­while, have been do­ing lots of sit­ting. “We’ve been on the col­lege (week­ends-only) sched­ule for three weeks, pretty light, and they went out on a big swing,” said Hamil­ton.

“I think we play 38 games af­ter Christ­mas, though.”

“Last year we had a lot of games out of the gate too and I like that … the guys train all sum­mer to get playing,” said Lauer, whose team played in Swift Cur­rent, Win­nipeg, Bran­don, Regina and Moose Jaw on a just-fin­ished five games on the road.

“I like that, go­ing east. Right now the weather’s bet­ter and when you get a cou­ple of new guys on a team, you bond on the road, you get to do some team stuff,” said Lauer, whose club has only lost once over 60 min­utes (to Leth­bridge on Sept. 29) and is scor­ing about four goals a game and giv­ing up three on av­er­age.

In the early go­ing, they’ve shown a fa­cil­ity for com­ing back to get points.

“That’s nice that we can but it’s not some­thing we’re work­ing on,” said Lauer, whose team will see the Hit­men Satur­day night and Port­land Win­ter­hawks Sun­day af­ter­noon.

“Com­ing back shows the char­ac­ter of a team, for sure, but it also shows we’re start­ing games late.”

“Our goals-against has to be bet­ter for sure, we were too loose early in the sea­son but we’ve been more re­li­able with our team de­fence the last three or four games,” he said.

THIS ’N THAT

Lo­cal Oil Kings de­fence­man Matthew Robert­son grew up an Oil­ers fan but the Rangers, who drafted him in Round 2 in June, are ob­vi­ously now his favourite team. The clubs play each other at Madi­son Square Gar­den Satur­day with the game on TV here at 11 am. Robert­son, who just signed a three-year en­try-level deal af­ter a good Rangers camp, will try and watch some of it live or, at worst, tape it for view­ing later, with an ob­vi­ous news black­out of the score … Oil Kings over-age goalie Dy­lan Miskiw, re­leased a few days ago be­cause they had too many 20-year-olds, might have a feeler from a team in the OHL.

POST­MEDIA FILE

The Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings will have squared off with the Al­berta-ri­val Cal­gary Hit­men eight times be­fore the calendar flips over to 2020. Then the reg­u­lar-sea­son se­ries is done.

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