By Riley Neilson
It has been a rough two years for the Edmonton Oil Kings. It looked like the sky was the limit after making it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and losing 4-2 in a hard-fought six-game series against the eventual Western Hockey League champs, the Prince Albert Raiders. Unfortunately, COVID had other ideas and stopped any potential playoff runs over the past two years, which has not been easy for the team.
“Usually, the season starts in September and goes all the way into May should you be able to go on and compete for a Memorial Cup Championship. But for last season, we didn’t start playing games until the end of February and with that, we ended up having a shortened season of 24 games, and there were no playoffs. So, the team played two to three months of exhibition games,” said Andrew Peard, the Oil Kings’ Broadcasting and Media professional.
Luckily, players still had something to play for. The team had multiple eligible players for the upcoming NHL draft, highlighted by Dylan Gunther going ninth overall to the Arizona Coyotes.
“Some players took the opportunity and had great seasons and were drafted into the NHL, but at the same time, I think a lot of the season was lost from the Western Hockey League,” said Peard.
The team did have a positive attitude about things, though, as they navigated through these challenging times.
“Our guys never complained; they never felt down. There was never a ‘woe is me’ type situation with our guys. They were very appreciative because at the end of the day, they did get to play some games, whereas minor hockey and other leagues of junior hockey and even some colleges weren’t able to play a season at all this year. They realize many people are losing more than just the ability to play a sport because of COVID. People are losing loved ones and jobs, and you go down the list. So, I think our guys had a really good mindset, they made the best of what was obviously a tough situation,” said Peard.
Things haven’t completely returned to normal, with the Oil Kings only playing teams in the Eastern Conference – unless they make the WHL final. But that will not deter the Oil Kings, who are focused on a straightforward goal.
“It’s [the goal of the current season] to win. We’ve had a real good team the past three years and two of the last three playoffs. We have a strong team once again this year. Our guys are fully bought in and sort of taking an approach of unfinished business with this group of guys. They are now focused on winning the central division and going on and having as much playoff success as possible. Our guys are super hungry to try and win another WHL championship for the city of Edmonton,” said Peard.
They are off to a strong start as they currently sit at the top of the central division and third in the eastern conference with a record of 7-2-1-1. This includes a hard-fought win this past weekend, with the Oil Kings becoming the only team so far to defeat the Winnipeg Ice. The Oil Kings returned to action on November 2 at home against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. For more upcoming games, tickets, and information on the team, head to oilkings.ca.