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Alberta Hockey is WHL Hockey… Sort Of

This hockey season has been full of surprises, even if they are not all big ones. I know that many of you saw the current lockout coming, but many of us were optimistic enough to the think that the players and owners would be able to see that the fans drive and fuel their league and that shutting the fans out from the game they love would surve no purpose. But, there is more to hockey than the as of yet non-existant NHL season. 

There was of course also the Subway Super Series, which was won by the Russians for the first time since 2010, and was only their second victory since the series began in 2003.



WHL hockey, the only way to watch the CFL on the reallhy big screen


But for those in Alberta, the WHL may be of the most interest right now. Afterall, AHL coverage is spotty, and our affiliate teams are not in our home towns.

Fans of the Red Deer Rebels were stunned last Wednesday with the dismissal of head coach Jesse Wallin, the bench boss for the past four seasons. Wallin and the Rebels hobbled to the finish line of last year's season after the team was decimated by inury, litterally running out of warm bodies and affiliated players to call up. For that, Wallin was not to blame. 

Up until Wednesady, the team was 10-10-1 with Wallin calling the shots, since Brent Sutter has taken the reigns, the team is 2-1-0 but the sample size is small. 

Calgary Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson commented on Wallen Sunday following the Hitmen's 4-2 win over the Swift Current Broncos. 

"It’s always tough to see a colleague lose his job. I thought that Jesse has done, in my mind, a good job and his teams always play hard. Especially when our teams meet we always have close games and his team is always well prepared. It’s part of the business and sometimes unfortunately people lose their jobs and I know that he will land on his feet and he will do very well."

No matter how tired Red Deer has been facing the Hitmen, and no matter how many injuries or suspensions have slowed the team, it never escaped Williamson how battle hardened the Rebels were. And also how talented players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Dumba were given the opportunity to develop and flourish under Wallin's watchful eye. 

Sutter is no stranger to coaching, and certainly not in Red Deer so perhaps this change is just what the team needed to increase their win percentage.

But there are always the other teams, and every one of them are searching for wins. That even includes last year's WHL champions, the Edmonton Oil Kings. 

After losing only a small handful of players to the AHL, and the ECHL, the Oil Kings still somehow struggled to find their legs. The team couldn't find a win against the Hitmen, and overall just didn't come out of the gates with all cylinders firing. And no one knew why.

The team has pulled itself together, and now more closely resembles the team of last season. If they can string together another 22 game winning streak remains to be seen. 

Williamson sees a lot of the Oil Kings as well as the Rebels, and to him the Oil Kings season start was easily explained, "Edmonton played a tonne of hockey last year, and I think that if you ask them they probably realise that every team is excited to play them. It’s a measuring stick so they’re not sneaking up on anyone. And they’re still I think the class of the conference and a team that we [the Calgary Hitmen] have had some success against, but I think that they are the team to beat out here."

Several players from the WHL will begin to recieve calls for World Junior camps, camps that may take them overseas. And for those lucky few who make the final cuts, a trip to the games, this year in Russia. Junior camps will cause minor changes and shakeups to the WHL rosters, but the on ice product remains worth the effort to go to see.

With no NHL hockey on the horizon, WHL hockey is ready to fill the void. In the Saddledome, Hitmen games  can be just like Flames games, but with far less country music. And of course WHL competition, but otherwise, it's hockey. The sights, the sounds, the smells, they're all there.

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About Oil Patch

Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.

Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.

Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.

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