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The Edmonton Oil Kings opened their shortened 2021 schedule with a sweep over the Lethbridge Hurricanes, winning 7-2 on Saturday.
While it took a proverbial broom to the Enmax Centre to clear some cobwebs in hosting its first Western Hockey League game in 363 days, the Oil Kings continued to look smooth as silk to improve to 2-0 after the opening weekend home-and-away series.
“It’s a good weekend for us, for sure,” said Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer. “The effort was there, we worked hard, we played as a team.
“There’s been times, we’ve been off 11 and a half months of competing in hockey and it’s not easy, it’s not pretty at times. But the compete is there, the effort is there, the will and the want is there. Sometimes it’s not pretty but we’re going to keep working on that.”
For the second time in as many nights, Oil Kings forward Dylan Guenther opened the scoring in the first two minutes of the game, this one coming at 1:59 off a rebound on a shot along the ice by centre Kaid Oliver for Guenther’s third goal and fifth point of the season.
Edmonton doubled their lead seven and a half minutes in, when a Lethbridge turnover behind their net ended up on Scott Atkinson’s stick, before being fired low, glove-hand side past Bryan Thompson. It was the first point of the season for the Edmonton captain, who is the first player in modern club history to sport the captain’s C in consecutive seasons.
Oliver made it 3-0 on the power play for their 10th goal across four periods to open the year, after having dispatched the Hurricanes 7-1 in Edmonton one day earlier.
The second period saw Oliver get stopped on a two-on-one by Thompson’s top save of the game, only to make amends on his next rush down ice by taking a near-perfect feed from Jake Neighbours. Oliver put the puck off the post and in past the Lethbridge tender to go ahead 4-0 with his third goal of the year to lead the way Saturday with two goals and four points.
Two minutes later, Jalen Luypen pushed Edmonton’s lead to five goals with a man-advantage marker while left all alone in front of the Hurricanes net.
Lethbridge got on the board on a put back by Edmonton product Justin Hall, which went just under the bar and over the glove of Sebastian Cossa with under two minutes to go in the second.
After killing a double-minor, Edmonton regained its five-point lead to open the third with Liam Keeler banging in a rebound off the end boards, but Hall clawed one right back with a centering pass that deflected off of Oil Kings defenceman Logan Dowhaniuk and through Cossa’s legs.
Midway through the third, Guenther gave Edmonton seven goals for the second time with his second of the night.
Cossa stopped 17 of 19 shots for the Oil Kings.
Edmonton has four more games against Lethbridge over the rest of the condensed 24-game Central Division schedule. Lethbridge was 3-1-0-0 in last year’s head-to-head season series.
Next up for the Oil Kings is a visit by the Medicine Hat Tigers to the Downtown Community Arena on Friday (7 p.m.).
Ex-Tigers-turned Oil Kings forward Josh Williams had a message for the long-time voice of his former team, Bob Ridley, who was calling his 4,000th Tigers game Saturday.
“I just want to say congrats on 4,000 games, it’s an incredible achievement and I’m just so happy you get to call your 4,000th game tonight,” Williams said in a video posted to the Oil Kings’ Twitter account Saturday. “I hope it’s your best one yet.”
As for Oil Kings milestones, Dowhaniuk earned two assists in his 100th WHL game Friday.
While the picture surrounding COVID-19 and the measures that must be taken to put junior hockey back on the ice has finally become clearer, the same can’t be said for what viewers had to initially contend with on the weekend.
Following the opening night of games Friday, the Canadian Hockey League and Western Hockey League released a joint statement apologizing for the broadcast quality of its all-new game streams.
“The streaming service that was delivered last night through WHL Live on CHL TV was disappointing for our fans and we are working diligently with our service provider to correct the issues. We have heard your frustration and we understand your disappointment. We are working to address the issues that have presented themselves with mobile devices, and we are also working to correct the brightness problems with video playback. We value and appreciate the passion of CHL fans and we thank you for your patience and support.”
In and out: The Oil Kings came into opening weekend with 13 forwards, eight defencemen and three goalies on its 24-player active roster after reassigning defenceman Billy Sowa, 18, to the Alberta Junior Hockey League … A total of 15 players have returned from last year’s squad … Six-foot, 170-pound defenceman Blake Heward was playing in his first WHL game. The 17-year-old native of Regina was originally drafted in the seventh round by the Swift Current Broncos in 2018.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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