By Dale Woodard on March 2, 2021.
After getting the first two games of their oft-delayed Western Hockey League season under their belt, it’s back to work for the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The 2021 season started on an 0-2 note following a pair of lopsided 7-1 and 7-2 losses to the Edmonton Oil Kings Friday night in Edmonton and Saturday night at the Enmax Centre, respectively.
As they wait word for when their next games will be — which were not yet finalized as of Monday afternoon — the Hurricanes pull up their boots and get back to work this week.
“It was obviously a bit of a humbling weekend,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio. “Edmonton was a lot better than us and played harder and did a lot of aspects of their game better than we did. We knew they were going to be one of the top teams coming in and we knew it was going to be a challenge, but we have a lot of work to do and I think we realized that. With two weeks off we’ve got a lot of time to put in now to get better.”
The Oil Kings got off to quick starts both nights, led by forward Dylan Guenther, who scored twice in each game and had an eight-point weekend.
On Friday night in Edmonton it was 2-0 and after 20 minutes at the Enmax Centre Saturday, Edmonton fashioned themselves a cozy 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. They led 5-0 before Hurricanes veteran forward Justin Hall scored his first of two on the night.
“Obviously they have good players and we knew that coming in, so we weren’t really surprised how good they were going to be,” said forward Jacob Boucher, who had two assists Saturday night and was plus-2. “We just missed compete battles and things like that. That energy was missing and our compete was missing. That’s what we’re going to be working on in practice and hopefully we’ll be back to where Hurricanes hockey is.”
Guenther and Kaid Oliver scored twice for the Oil Kings.
Scott Atkinson, Jalen Luypen and Liam Keeler added singles.
Jake Neighbours and Carter Souch had two assists each for Edmonton.
The Oil Kings were 2-for-4 on the power play Saturday night. The Hurricanes were 0-for-6.
Hurricanes goaltender Bryan Thomson stopped 30 of 37 shots, while Oil Kings netminder Sebastian Cossa made 17 saves. Edmonton outshot Lethbridge 37-19.
“We have a young group going into this season and we knew that right off the bat,” said second-year forward and Lethbridge product Zack Stringer. “Edmonton is a good team. They’ve got an older team and we just have to come in and compete way more and battle way more. We just didn’t have it and we can blame that on the older guys. We have to be those leaders for the younger guys. We have to create momentum and we just didn’t do that.”
“Both games we had a slow start,” added Boucher. “We gave up two goals in the first game pretty quick and in the second game we go down 3-0, so we can’t have that happening. We have to be strong on pucks early in the game, gets pucks deep and go to work. That’s just a compete level. We have to ramp that up, for sure.”
Kisio said Boucher was solid Saturday.
“He was probably one of our better forwards. He brought energy and compete, was getting under Edmonton’s skin a little bit and created some offence for us, too. I think he played a really strong game the second night and we need more guys to do that.”
Boucher only got in two games in 2019-20 — scoring once — before shoulder surgery sidelined him for the rest of the season.
“It’s been while for me, personally, over a year,” said Boucher, who will turn 19 this month and was drafted by the Canes in the ninth round and 187th overall in the 2017 WHL bantam draft. “It was nice to be back on the ice and playing with the guys. It wasn’t the weekend we wanted, but it was good to be able to contribute a little bit of offence this week.”
Kisio noted a need for more from his older players, but credited the younger players for solid performance on a weekend with plenty of WHL debuts.
“It was a really good weekend to see where everyone was at. I thought a lot of our young guys were really good. I don’t think they held us back at all. I think they got us some momentum and played some pretty good minutes for us, especially that second game. But we need a little bit more from our older guys right now.”
Kisio pointed to the play of Logan McCutcheon coming and Tanner Kovacs in Saturday’s game
“They both played a great game for us and did a lot of good things. There were a lot of positives from our younger group to build on from that weekend.”
The Hurricanes now hunker down as they await their next game and opponent.
There’s lots to correct,” said Kisio.
“There’s going to be some video, obviously. It’s just more us realizing we have a long way to go. We know where the bar is now, Edmonton set it. We know they’re going to keep getting better, but us as a team, we’ll worry about our group and the work has started already. We had a great day of practice (Monday), but it was hard work and that’s what we’re going to see for the next little bit.”
Kisio said conditioning and compete will be the focus leading into the next games.
“We have to be able to think the gaming, and that’s part conditioning. When you get tired, things go by the wayside and we got tired last weekend. It happens with a younger group and it’s a learning curve for us, but we have to learn and adapt quick,” he said. “The positive was our young guys. They came in and played well. We saw a lot of high skill in our young guys and they’re only going to get better and better. So we’re excited about them.”
Still, Stringer said going 0-2 was not the expected start.
“There’s a message going around to the younger guys and the older guys as well,” he said. “The younger guys are going to follow the older guys. So the older guys have to be doing the right things and obviously this weekend we weren’t. Me and my linemates, Bar (Logan Barlage) and Hallsie, didn’t have the best game, but we’re going to come in this week and push at practice and hopefully the young guys follow.”
Hurricanes captain Dino Kambeitz was injured in Friday’s game in Edmonton and not in the lineup Saturday.
Kisio said the overage forward will be back for the next games.
The Hurricanes made a roster addition on Monday, claiming overage left winger Liam Kindree off waivers from the Kelowna Rockets.
Kindree, 21, was drafted by the Rockets in the fourth round and 87th overall in the 2015 WHL bantam draft.
His acquisition gives the Hurricanes three overage, 2000-born players that also includes Kambeitz and defenceman Mitch Prowse.
Kindree, from North Vancouver, B.C., played 33 games in 2019-2020 with the Rockets, posting eight goals and 16 points.
He has played in 143 career regular season games, all with Kelowna, and has 23 goals and 78 points.
The five-foot-10, 182-pound forward is expected to arrive in Lethbridge this weekend to begin his WHL mandatory quarantine prior to joining the team.
The Hurricanes now have 15 forwards, eight defenseman and two goaltenders on the roster.
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