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Edmonton Oil Kings are new kids on Western Hockey League block

NHL.com @NHL

The third item on the Edmonton Oil Kings' wish list in their expansion year is to get into the post-season.

General manager Bob Green feels that can happen if items No. 1 and No. 2 get checked off.

"The first thing we wanted to do, being a new franchise is make sure we build a really strong foundation and culture within our hockey club, that's going to give us positive leadership down the road and success down the road," Green said from Edmonton.

"I think the other thing we want to make sure we do is battle every night and learn good habits The third thing we want to do is make the playoffs and if we can take care of the first two things, the third one will be taken care of as well."

The addition of the Oil Kings brings the number of Western Hockey League teams up to 22.

The league's newest team kicks off the 2007-08 season Thursday hosting the Kootenay Ice at Rexall Place.

The Chilliwack Bruins joined the WHL last season and reached the first round of playoffs in their inaugural campaign.

It seemed the only way a WHL team was going to exist in Edmonton was if the Oilers owned it.

The Oilers' chilly relationship with three previous junior teams effectively forced them out of town.

The most recent attempt was the Edmonton Ice, who played in secondary rinks because the Oilers would not share Northlands Coliseum. The Ice relocated to Cranbrook, B.C., in 1998 after just two seasons in Edmonton.

But once the NHL team decided a major junior team was a good buy and waved a blank cheque around in an effort to land one, it was only a matter of time before the WHL returned to Alberta's capital.

"The two biggest factors that are going to make it work here are the Oilers own the team . . . and we're playing in Rexall Place," said Green.

The Oil Kings become the WHL's third team in an NHL market. The Calgary Flames own the WHL's Hitmen and the Hitmen have flourished under NHL ownership.

The Vancouver Giants are not owned by the Canucks, but have a harmonious relationship with the NHL team. In the Ontario Hockey League, the Ottawa 67's get along with the NHL's Senators.

In the latter two instances, the home rinks of both junior teams are large, established buildings and neither depends on a relationship with the NHL club to have a place to play.

As the Vancouver Giants do at Pacific Coliseum, the upper bowl of the 16,839-seat Rexall Place will be curtained off for Oil Kings games to make it feel less cavernous for smaller junior hockey crowds, leaving 6,700-seats exposed.

Green expects the Oil Kings will be able to average over 5,000 spectators a game and says season ticket sales have reached 2,500.

The schedule at Rexall Place in February and March is so tight that the Oil Kings have only four home games there those months.

Expansion teams are allowed to carry five 20-year-old, or overage, players instead of the quota of three and the Oil Kings are taking advantage of that loophole.

Three of them are on defence and goaltender Alex Archibald has been down the expansion road before with the Bruins last season.

"We ended up with a lot of good 17-year-old forwards, but with their inexperience in the league and their youth, it was important that we have a little bit of age on our backside and in net to help us get through some of the tougher times as the young guys develop their game," Green said.

Defenceman Lyon Messier, the son of Oiler great Mark Messier, tried out for the team as a 20-year-old, but the Oil Kings have dealt his rights to the Kelowna Rockets.

Czech forward Tomas Vincour, the first overall pick in the Canadian Hockey League's import draft, New York Islanders draft pick Robin Figren and Craig McCallum, who led the Saskatchewan Midget triple-A league in scoring last season, are expected to carry the offensive load for the Oil Kings.

Of the three major junior leagues under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League, the WHL has seen the most off-season changes in the coaching ranks, starting with Brian Sutter replacing brother Brent behind the Red Deer Rebels' bench as Brent makes his NHL coaching debut with the New Jersey Devils.

Kevin Constantine left the Everett Silvertips to coach the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros and John Becanic is his replacement.

The Portland Winter Hawks hired Richard Kromm to be their new head coach. Kromm is a former captain of the Winter Hawks and played 372 NHL games for the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders.

Mark Holick replaces Cory Clouston behind the Kootenay Ice bench as Clouston is now with the AHL's Binghamton Senators.

Ryan Huska was promoted from assistant to head coach of the Kelowna Rockets with the departure of Jeff Truitt for the Oilers' AHL team in Springfield. Huska won three Memorial Cup rings as a Kamloops Blazer in the 1990s.

Bruno Campese is the new head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders and he replaces Peter Anholt, whose contract expired at the conclusion of last season.

Dave Hunchak was an assistant coach of the Swift Current Broncos and now steps into the job of head coach with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Notes - The Oil Kings will host the 2008 CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Game at Rexall Place on Jan. 23 . . . The WHL leg of the six-game ADT Canada-Russia Series will be held in Cranbrook, B.C., on Nov. 28 and in Medicine Hat, Alta., on Nov. 29 . . . This is the last season the Seattle Thunderbirds will play in the KeyArena. The Kent Events Center 20 kilometres south of Seattle will be the new home of the T-Birds for the 2008-09 season.

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