June 20th, 2024

Hometown advantage for Oil Kings’ Szabo

By Dale Woodard - Lethbridge Herald on January 20, 2022.

As the Edmonton Oil Kings took the ice Sunday night at the Enmax Centre for their Western Hockey League game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the road team might have felt like the home team.
They can thank John Szabo for that.
Behind the Edmonton bench sat a loud, sign-waving and obviously very pro-Oil King crowd.
The majority of that was courtesy of Szabo, the Lethbridge boy coming back to his home stomping grounds as a 16-year-old rookie on a powerhouse Oil Kings squad very intent on making a run at both a WHL and Memorial Cup championship.
On Sunday, the Oil Kings gave their Lethbridge contingent a bit more to cheer about, coming back from a late 4-2 deficit to post a 5-4 shootout win.
And the John Szabo fan club was out in full force.
“Family goes all out when I come home,” said Szabo, a sixth-round pick and 111th overall of the Oil Kings in the 2020 WHL draft.
That hometown booster club didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of his teammates.
“They gave it a bit to me, for sure, in warmups when they saw the ‘Welcome home’ signs,” said Szabo, who went minus-one and had two shots on goal in Sunday’s win. “But it’s all good fun.”
His first full WHL campaign has taken the same route.
After honing his skills locally as a member of the Lethbridge Val Matteotti bantam AAA Golden Hawks from 2018 to 2020 that included a two-game stint with the with the Lethbridge U16 AAA Canes and five games with the U18 AAA Hurricanes of the Alberta Elite Hockey League in 2020-21, Szabo made the jump to major junior at the start of this season.
“This is a dream come true since I was young,” said Szabo, who has three goals and seven points in 34 games this season. “All of my family and friends are here with the signs and everything. It’s pretty cool to be around all of this and play in my hometown in the WHL.”
In the Canadian Hockey League mid-season rankings, the 27-9-2-1 Oil Kings sit in second place, behind their fellow WHL franchise Winnipeg Ice.
“It’s been really good,” said Szabo, who will turn 17 in May. “Just learning is the biggest thing for me this year. (Jake) Neighbours, (Dylan) Guenther, (Kaiden) Guhle, all of those guys are first round (NHL) picks. It’s something special. It’s a special group we’ve got here and I’m happy to be here and happy to learn from them.
“They teach you a lot about being more professional. Coming in as a 16-year-old, you’re not really sure what to expect. But those guys really warm you up and teach you how to play at this level and help out a lot.”
In a COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 AEHL season, Szabo managed five points in five games with the U18 Hurricanes in his final season before moving up to the WHL.
“I’d say probably the speed with the guys and how fast everyone makes plays,” said Szabo of the adjustment. “It’s a big jump from midget hockey, that’s for sure. The physicality as well. When you come to Lethbridge, you know they’re always playing a hard, gritty game. So you just have to match that and do your best.”
Already ranked second in the nation and having just loaded a little bit more at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Justin Sourdif from the Vancouver Giants, the Oil Kings now gear up for a run at a league and Memorial Cup title.
“It’s amazing,” said Szabo. “We love winning, and with all these guys, too. It’s a great group of guys. Everyone loves each other. It’s really fun to be around this winning culture.”

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