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Central Division in the spotlight as Oil Kings & Hitmen clash on Sportsnet

Candice Ward/Calgary Hitmen

 

Monday’s matchup on Sportsnet will come at a perfect time for junior hockey fans from coast-to-coast.

The eighth and final meeting of the season between the Calgary Hitmen and Edmonton Oil Kings will take place in the spotlight of Canadian Hockey League action on Sportsnet Monday night.

If you feel like it’s early for the regular season series between the division rivals to end, you’re not alone. However, it was just back in the 2012-13 WHL Regular Season that the season series also concluded before the calendars turned over so while it feels out of order, it’s not uncommon for either team to experience.

While the Oil Kings are hoping to find more of the same success they experienced in 2019 in the new year, the Calgary Hitmen will be searching for a spark and have the perfect opportunity to do it in the national spotlight.

Edmonton is certified hot at the moment with a 9-0-1-0 record in their previous 10 games. They’ve been able to match up well on both sides of the puck, scoring the fourth-most goals in the WHL and conceding the eighth-fewest goals against in the 22-team league. As is the case at certain points in the year, many of the teams ahead of the Oil Kings in the goals allowed department still have as many as five games to make up on Edmonton to get on their level.

For the Hitmen, Monday’s matchup exists in the short term and long term of the mindset for their season. In the here and now, taking down the WHL’s top-ranked team in the standings would be a fantastic shot in the arm to aid a stretch that’s seen them go 3-5-2-0. One of those three wins did come against the Oil Kings, spoiling the latter’s Teddy Bear Toss game back on December 7.

In the long term, the divisional standings throughout the WHL are starting to form gaps, with the Hitmen entrenched in the first wild card spot at the moment. Any repositioning by them in the wild card or in the Oil Kings’ status at the top of the conference could provide the perfect storm for a matchup in the opening round of the 2020 WHL Playoffs. Fresh memories of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Oil Kings still linger from last spring and the chance to make new memories in their 25th season would be perfect.

That being said, recent history has favoured the Oil Kings in the regular season. Entering Monday’s game, the Oil Kings have a 5-0-2-0 record from this year’s season series. Over the past 16 games, they’re a combined 13-0-3-0. Whether the Hitmen want to take it as a good or bad fact, all seven of the games in this year’s season series have been decided by one or two goals.

Individually, the Hitmen’s spotlight has belonged to Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Riley Stotts in the month of December. His 12 points (6G-6A) lead the Hitmen and his 35 points have placed him into the team scoring lead. Forward Orca Wiesblatt, captain and Ottawa Senators prospect Mark Kastelic, and Vancouver Canucks prospect Carson Focht have also been known to take over offensively and will be looked to contribute Monday night.

Countering for the Oil Kings is a lineup that features three double-digit scorers in the month of December in forwards Riley Sawchuk, Jake Neighbours, and Josh Williams. However, it’s their defensive play that’s been the subject of the spotlight more recently with the emergence of Sebastian Cossa as the team’s starting goaltender. His 6-0-1-0 record in December along with a tidy 1.55 goals-against average and a 0.948 save percentage have the Oil Kings where they are.

Tune in for puck drop on Monday, December 30 (7:00 p.m. MT) from coast-to-coast as the Hitmen host the Oil Kings at the Scotiabank Saddledome in CHL on Sportsnet action to see where greatness begins!

Edmonton Oil Kings

Record: 24-6-5-2, 55 points, 1st in Central Division
Head coach: Brad Lauer
Leading scorers: C Riley Sawchuk (14-31—45); LW Jake Neighbours (12-27—39); RW Josh Williams (15-22—37)
Leading goaltender: Sebastian Cossa (21 GP, 14-2-1-1, 2.08 GAA, 0.926 SV%, 2 SO)
Power play: 8th — 21.2 per cent
Penalty kill:  3rd – 87.0 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: LW Jesse Seppala (upper body, two-to-three weeks), D Jacson Alexander (upper body, three-to-four weeks) (as of December 17, 2019)

Calgary Hitmen

Record: 16-11-4-1, 37 points, 4th in Central Division
Head coach: Steve Hamilton
Leading scorers: C Riley Stotts (16-19—35); C Mark Kastelic (18-14–32); LW Orca Wiesblatt (11-20—31)
Leading goaltender: Jack McNaughton (19 GP, 11-3-1-1, 3.18 GAA, 0.879 SV%)
Power play: 11th — 20.2 per cent
Penalty kill:  12th – 78.9 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: RW Hunter Campbell (lower body, week-to-week, C Mark Kastelic (lower body, day-to-day), D Egor Zamula (World Juniors)

Season series
Sept. 27 – Edmonton 3 at Calgary 4 (OT)
Oct. 12 – Calgary 4 at Edmonton 6
Nov. 3 – Edmonton 3 at Calgary 2
Nov. 9 – Calgary 2 at Edmonton 4
Nov. 30 – Calgary 4 at Edmonton 5
Dec. 6 – Edmonton 4 at Calgary 2
Dec. 7 – Calgary 3 at Edmonton 2 (OT)
Dec. 30 – Edmonton at Calgary*

*Indicates CHL on Sportsnet broadcast

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