Oil King veterans not too far removed from their own struggles
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Edmonton's Edgars Kulda (23) and Luke Bertolucci look for a rebound in front of Moose Jaw Warriors goalie Justin Paulic.
The Edmonton Oil Kings’ veterans had empathy for the current woes of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Not that they were going to go easy on their rivals.
The Oil Kings handed the Warriors their 10th straight defeat with a 7-0 win in Western Hockey League action Tuesday at Mosaic Place.
“I’m not very happy with any of that. There were some stretches where we were involved, but there wasn’t enough of them and you can’t do that against Edmonton,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers.
“We weren’t very sharp as far as the focus and attention to the details.”
The Oil Kings jumped all over the Warriors early. They took four shots in the first minute and Michael St. Croix gave them a 1-0 lead 61 seconds into the game.
T.J. Foster doubled the lead little over five minutes later and Edmonton took the first eight shots of the game.
“If you stand around and watch against a team like Edmonton you’re going to get burned. You get what you deserve,” said Stothers. “We stood and watched and admired a very good hockey club.
“When we challenged them in their zone we had some short glimpses of what we’re capable of, but we didn’t have everybody engaged.”
The Warriors got a lift when Tanner Eberle flattened Cody Corbett in a fight 8:48 into the first period. That seemed to wake up the home side up. The scored stayed 2-0 for more than 30 minutes of game time, but the Warriors failed to generate many chances to get back into the game.
Curtis Lazar and Trevor Cheek each scored power play goals after they buried lively bounces off the end boards. Lazar scored with 1:51 left in the second and Cheek tallied 2:21 into the third period.
Cheek scored twice more in the third period and Keegan Lowe also scored.
Justin Paulic made some big stops — he stopped Cheek and Edgars Kulda on breakaways — but couldn’t keep the Warriors in the game forever. He finished with 31 saves.
Tristan Jarry made 13 saves to record his fifth shutout of the season.
The win gives the reigning WHL champs a little more breathing room on top of the Eastern Conference standings.
But there was a time not long ago when the Oil Kings were at the foot of the conference and mired in some long losing streaks of their own.
In 2009-10 the Oil Kings posted a 16-43-4-9 record. That season they had losing streaks of 11 and 16 games. Both streaks featured three games they lost either in a shootout or overtime.
“We built as a team and we definitely remember the 16 wins we had that one year,” said St. Croix who led the team in scoring as a 16-year-old that season. “It definitely wasn’t pretty. It was a year that you don’t like going through, but at the time you had to. Playing a lot of minutes at a young age was crucial for a lot of guys on that team.”
Along with St. Croix, Lowe, Dylan Wruck and Travis Ewanyk got a lot of playing time as 16-year-olds. Stephane Legault played 14 games and Foster and Mark Pysyk were big contributors as a 17-year-olds. The Warriors dressed five 16-year-olds Tuesday.
“The guys who were on that team — we went through a lot,” said Lowe who played 69 games as a 16-year-old. “It was tough. Nobody wants to go through a season like that.
“It’s the cycle of junior hockey. Sometimes you have to lose before you win. The turnover is so quick in junior hockey — you get a couple of draft picks and all of a sudden you’re on top. We learned a lot from losing.”
Lowe credited veterans like Adrian Van de Mosselaer and Pysyk for getting the young players to focus on the rare opportunity they were getting to log big minutes at such a young age.
“You try to find the positives in everything and know that there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel,” said St. Croix who recalled quickly that their longest losing streak was 16 games.
“At the moment it doesn’t seem like the best thing, but through the losing you definitely start to hate it, you can’t stand it and it’s going to push you to win games later on.”
The Oil Kings made the playoffs the next season before being swept in the first round. The next season — with 14 players who dressed in the 09-10 season in the lineup — the Oil Kings won the WHL title.
“People ask if we gave up and we never did. We fought until the end of the season. We lost a lot of one-goal games. It was just one of those years,” said Lowe.
“Last year when we won the WHL championship it was something we talked about after the game: it’s been three years and we went from 16 wins to 50 wins and a WHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup. That’s something that drove us: to show everyone how quickly we could turn it around.”