Friday night’s season opener for the Edmonton Oil Kings was a night to celebrate last year’s WHL title but the Red Deer Rebels executed plans to spoil the celebration at the end of the night.
An Oil Kings squad with a mix of a few names from last year’s title squad and quite a few new faces fell to the Rebels 5-2 in a season opener that had good moments early but was a game where Edmonton struggled to slow the momentum of Red Deer.
Cole Miller on the powerplay would get the Oil Kings on the board in the first period, after a start that saw Red Deer get the bulk of the better chances. Before the end of the first, the Rebels would get one back very late in the frame as Jhett Larson, with less than 25 seconds to go in the period, would beat Kolby Hay in close to make this a 1-1 game going into the intermission.
Larsson’s late-period goal would spark a second period that was all Red Deer. The Rebels would get their second goal on the man advantage from a Hunter Mayo wrist shot at the 4:17 mark to give the visitors their first lead of the game. Carter Anderson would extend the Red Deer lead to 3-1, and not even 30 seconds later, Mayo would get his second goal of the game to make it a 4-1 Red Deer game after 40 minutes.
In the third, the Oil Kings would cut the lead in half thanks to Mason Finley’s goal, but that would be as close as Edmonton would get as Jhett Larson’s empty-net goal at the 19:45 mark of the third would seal the Red Deer victory.
For Cole Miller, a returning member of last year’s championship squad, the approach after the season opener was to focus on getting ready to take the two points in Red Deer to finish the back-to-back games.
“Not the way we wanted it to go today, but it’s a quick turnaround, and I think the best thing for us is just do the things we need to do tonight so that when we get on the bus when we go down to Red Deer tomorrow that we bring a better performance and hopefully get the two points out of it.”
Even though the result wasn’t what he wanted, new Oil Kings bench boss Luke Pierce spoke positively on his team’s effort on the opening night of the season and saw positives in his team’s play.
“I thought we had a really good effort early and a lot of energy coming off of the ceremony. Just a little bit of a lapse in the second period that kind of cost us. We had good energy, good push, some good things in the third, so some things to build off of”. Said Pierce
One of the bright spots for Edmonton came from Kolby Hay’s performance in net. You’d be hard-pressed to blame Hay as he kept his side in much of this game, making 31 saves on the night and stopping many high-quality chances from Red Deer. The sentiments were the same from Pierce, who appreciated his effort in net.
“He was really good in the first for sure; he kept us in there and made some highlight reel type saves. I think, all in all, it’s a real positive effort for Kolby. It’s tough to blame him on any of those (goals allowed), so we’ve asked our goaltenders regardless of which one is in to give us a chance to win every night, and I thought Kolby did that”.
The Oil Kings are right back at it tonight, taking on the Rebels in Red Deer at 7 PM MT to finish the season-opening home and home series.