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