Youth will be served
Oil Kings play out string with three meaningless games prior to WHL playoffs
By Chris O'Leary, Edmonton Journal
March 14, 2012
The Edmonton Oil Kings have had a magical season.
They've locked up the top spot in the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference and racked up a bevy of franchise firsts and/or records along the way.
Rexall Place and a playoff-starved fan base are waiting for the Oil Kings to begin the playoffs on March 23.
Before Edmonton can start to chase its first playoff win in modern franchise history, and before it can envision a playoff run that takes the team to the Memorial Cup, there's the matter of playing the three pesky regular-season games left on the schedule.
The Oil Kings are on the road to play their final three games within a span of four nights. The trip starts on Wednesday against the Kootenay Ice, continues Friday at Medicine Hat against the third-place Tigers, and wraps up Saturday in Red Deer against the Rebels.
Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal said he'd be looking to give some younger players a chance to shine this week.
"We're going to get use out of everybody on the bench here and make sure everyone gets ample ice time," Laxdal said as the team travelled to Cranbrook, B.C., on Tuesday morning. "We'll wait and see and back off on a few guys. We'll see where we are each game."
It's already a guarantee that for-ward Dylan Wruck will not play this week. He was injured during a five-on-five scrum on Saturday night in the Oil Kings' final home game against the Rebels.
"He's doing OK," Laxdal said of the 18-year-old, who has 21 goals and 59 assists this season.
"He won't play these three games. He's day-to-day and we'll take it from there. We're hoping to have him back for Game 1 of the playoffs, but it's a wait-and-see kind of approach right now."
Laxdal said that the upper body injury was examined and the doctor's report came back much better than expected.
Wednesday's game against the Ice could be a playoff preview. The Ice are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with 80 points, with three games remaining, but they have only a two-point advantage on the eighth-place Brandon Wheat Kings, who clinched a playoff spot on Saturday.
The Regina Pats (sixth) and Saskatoon Blades (seventh) also went into Tuesday night's action with three games left on their respective schedules, leaving the Oil Kings waiting to see who their post-season opponent will be next weekend.
"We're going to focus on what we need to do for getting ready for the playoffs and the way we need to play," Laxdal said. "We're really not going to worry about what the other teams need to do."
"We've started to prep for a long time here, just in the way we want to play and the way we want to approach the games," Laxdal said. "Obviously, who we play against, we'll have a week to prepare before we open up on the Friday night.
"We've seen all of the teams that we could possibly play, so right now we're just looking forward to finishing off the regular season and getting ready for the playoffs.
"It's going to be a privilege to be in there and, whoever we play, it's going to be a great series," he said.
Saturday's game against Red Deer could be a rough one. The teams combined for 156 penalty minutes at Rexall Place on Saturday and Laxdal was vocal after the game, repeatedly saying that the Rebels - who were eliminated from the playoffs -were unprofessional in how they conducted themselves.
Laxdal now brushes off the suggestion that the Rebels' final game of the season Saturday could get out of hand.
"It's the game of hockey," he said. "The game gets physical and we've got to play through it. We've got to focus on getting those two points and focus on the way we play.
"We want to play a physical hard game. If it gets out of control a little bit, that's the referee's job to settle it down. It'll be fine."
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