Edmonton Oilers-owned WHL club off to strong start

Normally, the Edmonton Oilers hate to be following their top NHL rival, the Calgary Flames. But clearly, the success story of the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, who belong to the Flames, influenced Edmonton ownership to go out and acquire its own major junior expansion franchise. Reintroducing the name of the Edmonton Oil Kings harkens back to the glory days of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when a previous incarnation earned two Memorial Cups (1963, 1966) and appeared in the finals on numerous other occasions. For its inaugural 2007-08 campaign, Edmonton is competing in the Central Division of the WHL’s Eastern Conference, using a veteran-laden roster, since league rules permit expansion clubs to ice up to five 20-year-olds. However, there are also promising younger talents at forward, like Czech import Tomas Vincour and Regina’s Brent Raedeke. Through October 7, the new-look Oil Kings posted a competitive 3-2-0-1 record. HockeyAdventure.com caught up with four key members of the Oil Kings organization recently.

Bretton Stamler, Captain and Defenseman

On coming to Edmonton after four years with the Seattle Thunderbirds: There’s a ton more exposure here. Seattle isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed, competing with three other teams in the Supersonics, Seahawks, and Mariners. There’s a lot more media attention and the fan base is a lot bigger. From a personal standpoint, as a guy that’s looking to earn a pro contract somewhere, this is a good place to play. Obviously the coaching has been very good so far with Steve Pleau. I’m happy to be here.

On the thrill of playing on the same ice where Wayne Gretzky and Ryan Smyth played: I’m more focused on the present. Right now I’m in the Rexall Place parking lot, and I’m debating whether to go back in about 15 minutes and watch the San Jose pre-game skate. I’ve never actually seen Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau up close. I think just the opportunity to go to a couple of games and watch from the press box will be great. Especially being drafted by Detroit and going to the Oilers camp, now, it’s obviously somewhere I want to be.

On his leadership style: Off the ice, I just lead by example. I think my work ethic is one of my strongest suits, and I know where I want to be. I want to be a pro hockey player. Guys can look up to me for that, and that’s what I bring to the table. I don’t think I’m a guy that’s going to be hootin’ and hollerin’ and always talking in the room. I just go about my business and worry about myself first and then worry about the guys second. If you’re not worrying about yourself and not playing well, you can’t do a great job worrying about the team. On the ice, I’m a two-way guy at this level. I can provide offense and also shut down a team’s top line.

On the Oil Kings defense: All around, we’re pretty solid, especially having three 20-year-olds and Cameron Cepek as well, who has a ton of experience in this league. We have guys that can do a little bit of everything. Although we haven’t played great of late, down the stretch the strength of our team will definitely be our defense, and we’ll be known for that. That’s not taking anything away from our young forwards, but I think we have a heck of a defense, and one that would definitely match up very well against any other defense in the WHL.

On the perks of playing in his native Alberta: Hearing from friends I haven’t heard from in four years, because I’ve been living in Seattle. All of a sudden, I’m getting phone calls out of the blue, people asking me how I’m doing and congratulating me on getting the captaincy and playing in Edmonton. Also, they’re asking me for tickets sometimes! But that’s just a by-product of it. I don’t mind at all, getting people tickets. Having an opportunity to play in front of my mom and dad is obviously really nice, especially since this may be the last time I ever get to play in front of them.

On GM Bob Green: We have a heck of a team, and I think Bob Green did a heck of a job in the summer, picking our players. It’s pretty clear he’s done his homework, and his track record with the Medicine Hat Tigers speaks for itself. Two examples that come to mind right away are Derek Dorsett and Darren Helm. Both were undrafted bantam players, and now look at them. I know Darren well from going to camp with him in Detroit. That’s just a credit to Bob Green, spotting the talent early on, because he was kind of an unknown player, playing Junior B in Manitoba of all places as a 16-year-old. Then he goes on as an 18-year-old to score 41 goals. Derek Dorsett was also a super pest in the playoffs last year, and he was an older rookie coming in the league. Now he’s a top prospect for the Columbus Blue Jackets. I think that’s all Bob’s work.

Alex Archibald, Goalie

On competing for starts with Dalyn Flette: Like with any team, the guy who’s playing the best will get the starts. I expect to play my best every game. That’s how it turns out.

On chances to meet the Oiler goalies: I did meet Dwayne Roloson. He let us into the building one day. So that’s about it. But I’ve had a chance to see both him and Mathieu Garon on the ice, and it’s a great learning experience to see the little things they do in the net that kind of separate them from everybody else.

On the vibe in the room: We’ve got a lot of great personalities in the room. A lot of character guys, great guys. There are no egoes on the team, which is great. Everyone has everyone else’s back out there, and that’s the first team rule. Always have each other’s backs on and off the ice. That’s like our motto.

Bob Green, General Manager

On leaving Medicine Hat to join the Oil Kings: My first discussions were with the ownership in Medicine Hat, who informed that the Oilers had called them, asking for permission to talk to me. Certainly I was excited from that moment on, being that this is my hometown, and understanding the tradition junior hockey’s had in Edmonton. At that time, I didn’t know we’d be called the Oil Kings. We hadn’t picked a name yet. But junior hockey has a huge tradition in Edmonton, and I knew it would be exciting to be part of it.

On the difference between being Edmonton’s GM versus Medicine Hat’s scouting director: I’ve spent quite a bit less time at the rink watching bantams and midgets and Junior A hockey than I did with that job. I still enjoy scouting, so I want to make sure I get out and get a chance to go on a couple of trips and watch some hockey. But you’re more hands-on with the team and more directly involved with the day-to-day business of the hockey team. That’s exciting, and a little bit different.

On why the Oil Kings will succeed where the Edmonton Ice didn’t: It was kind of a turbulent time for hockey in Edmonton back then. The Oilers were going through an ownership change. From our standpoint, being owned by the Oilers is very important in the community. Their ticket sales people do a very good job of marketing us in the city. We’re playing in Rexall Place full-time, whereas the Ice played out of the AgriCom, which wasn’t a great venue or really fan-friendly. That created some problems for them. Rexall is a great place for our guys to play.

On collaborating with the Oilers: The Edmonton Oilers have been unbelievable with us for business and hockey operations. They made it clear right from the start that we’re a part of the Oilers organization. They’re doing everything they can to help us out. Kevin Lowe and his hockey people have been great. We’ve talked about imports with their scouting staff and those types of things. We’re probably attracting a different type of audience than the Oilers would: younger people, more families with kids. There’s a lot of identification with junior hockey in Edmonton, not just with the Oil Kings name, but also because lots of players from this area play in the WHL.

Steve Pleau, Head Coach

On his coaching philosophy: We want to be an aggressive, hard-working team, but you’ve also got to evaluate your personnel. We’ve got a strong back end, a lot of experience back there. We’ve got to build from the net out. Most successful programs, like Vancouver and Everett, have done that, and that’s what we want to establish.

On the fan response: There is a lot of enthusiasm thus far. They’re giving us a chance to establish a culture here. They’ve been patient thus far. We had a poor effort, a lack of energy, last Sunday when we lost 3-0 to Lethbridge. I’m sure if we come up with another one of those that they’ll show their displeasure, and I wouldn’t blame them.

On what he learned from his dad, St. Louis Blues GM Larry Pleau: The biggest thing I’ve learned from my dad is patience. When you’re working with younger players, whether at the AHL level or here, you’ve got to give guys time. You can’t just teach something one day and expect to see it the next day. You’ve got to let guys absorb things and learn on their own. Through the years, my dad’s done a great job of developing young talent. He’s always established that. He’s a great hockey mind, and just having a conversation with him is educational.

On his 2007-08 goals: Just to establish a culture of work ethic and competitiveness. I’m not going to sit here and say we need this many points or wins. You don’t know what you’re going to need. But we want to be competitive and show up every night, and hopefully we’ll be there in the 2008 WHL playoffs.

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