It was a busy weekend for the Wheatland Kings, and not just because of hockey. The Kings were helping the Ag Society set up the Celebration of Lights on Sunday, which was a pretty fitting metaphor for the Kings lighting up the scoreboard recently. For their second game in a row, the Kings scored 6 goals in an overtime win against the High River Flyers on Friday.
Under new Head Coach Doug Raycroft, the Kings have looked like a new team. The 10-game losing streak under previous Head Coach Ron West (9 losses under him+ one more when Raycroft stepped in) is a distant memory, as the Kings are now enjoying a two-game winning streak. Kings General Manager Lee Smith says there's a different energy around the team now that Raycroft is leading the team.
"I think most of the young guys have bought in now. A lot of them have played for Doug at one point or another when they've been through his hockey camps and those kinds of things. I think they feel very confident, they're familiar with Doug, so I think that made a big difference. I don't think they were quite as familiar with Ron," Smith said.
One consistent problem during the losing streak was the inability to play for a full 60 minutes. If the last game's 6-5 OT win is any indication, it seems like those problems are behind the Kings. The Kings found themselves down 4-2 at the start of the third but came back strong to take a 5-4 lead with 30 seconds left in the game. However, the Flyers tied it up to send it to overtime, but despite a bit of adversity the Kings never folded and sealed the deal when Chase Berg scored the game-winner.
"We showed lots of grit, lots of guys that want to win, and when the chips were down, the guys pulled it out in the third period. We trailed most of the game and kind of struggled, it wasn't our best performance of the year, but you know what? Sometimes you have to win ugly on the road, so it's good," said Smith.
While the two-game win streak has the team feeling good, they know there is plenty of work to be done to get themselves out of the hole they created. To keep the streak going they'll have to win a tough game on the road against the Coaldale Copperheads.
"It's definitely going to be difficult to go to Coledale. They always play a heavy game, they're a big team, and in that small rink, it changes everything. The snake pit, as they call it, is a very small rink and it's tight. And the fans are quite passionate, so it's a tough place to play. We gotta come and make sure that we're ready to go," said Smith.
Regarding the rink size comments, Smith explained the Kings play on an Olympic-sized ring, which is bigger than NHL size, which is around what the Copperheads play on. While the smaller rink does pose a challenge, especially against a big, physical team, Smith says his guys are going to keep doing what works to try and make it three wins in a row.
"We're going to keep playing our game, we'll just keep plugging away at the way we're doing it. Doug's got a system in place that he likes and he's got some guys that can put the puck in the net. I feel confident that we're going to keep this winning streak going, the boys bought in and there's been a lot of good things happening here in the last few weeks since we made the (coaching) change."
With the Kings looking revitalized, Smith believes his young, talented team is starting to put it all together and live up to the promise.
"We struggled at the beginning of the year, but I think we're starting to turn the corner here, and we've moved from being in the bottom of the division to fourth, that's a good sign."
The Kings will play the Copperheads on Sunday, November 13, and then will host the Airdrie Techmation Thunder on Saturday, November 19. A game last weekend against the Mountainview Colts was postponed due to the weather and bad road conditions, so it's possible that game could be coming up in the near future as well.
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