|Jon Groenheyde is enjoying his role with the Edmonton Oil Kings.|
(Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings Hockey Club)
Daily News Sports Editor
The Edmonton Oil Kings had lost eight WHL games in a row.
They had been beaten 16 consecutive times by the despised Calgary Hitmen.
They never had beaten the Vancouver Giants.
But all of that was before the arrival of goaltender Jon Groenheyde on Nov. 4.
The losing streak reached nine before the Oil Kings, with Groenheyde making his first start after being acquired from the Kamloops Blazers, beat the Cougars, 7-3, in Prince George on Nov. 6.
On Nov. 24, Groenheyde, making his first start in Edmonton, made 32 saves as the Oil Kings got past the visiting Hitmen, 4-3.
Two nights later, on Grey Cup Eve, Groenheyde only needed to make 18 saves in a 6-4 victory over the visiting Giants.
Three losing streaks? Three losing streaks finished? Check, check and check!
Now, with Groenheyde having earned five victories in eight decisions, the Oil Kings have won three in a row and six of 10, and they are making some noise in the lower reaches of the 12-team Eastern Conference.
The Oil Kings, in their fourth WHL season, are 11-14-1, which places them ninth in the conference, one point behind the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The Prince Albert Raiders, who trail Edmonton by three points, visit the Oil Kings tonight, with the Wheat Kings, who have lost seven in a row, there on Friday.
“They’re big games for us,” said Groenheyde, a 19-year-old from South Surrey. “If we play the way we’ve been playing, and everyone comes to play, we should win. They should be good games.”
Groenheyde, who was in his third season with the Blazers, was struggling to earn playing time in Kamloops. He started the season strong, but his play fell off following the acquisition of Jeff Bosch, 20, from the Moose Jaw Warriors.
On Nov. 4, Groenheyde, having gone six games without a start, was traded to the Oil Kings for goaltender Cam Lanigan, 18.
“It’s really good here,” Groenheyde said after Tuesday’s practice. “This is a good team for me.”
At the time of the trade, the Oil Kings were starting a long road trip in Prince George. Groenheyde didn’t know anyone on their roster when he first walked into their dressing room. He knew, though, that general manager Bob Green and head coach Derek Laxdal were looking to him for leadership.
“It really helped that we were on the road,” Groenheyde said. “If I was here, I would be at the rink and then going home to my billet, and I’m not living with anyone here. It would have been tough to get to know any of the guys.
“But when you’re on the bus and in the hotel all the time, you’re around the guys nonstop, so that was actually very good.”
In Edmonton, there isn’t any doubt who is the No. 1 goaltender. It is Groenheyde, with Laurent Brossoit, 17, backing him up. Brossoit, who is from Surrey, was the 26th player selected in the 2008 bantam draft.
“Since we picked up Jon, he’s not only been good in the net for us, he’s been great in the dressing room,” Laxdal told Jason Hills of the Edmonton Sun. “He’s a real leader — a professional — and he’s really rubbed off on (Broissoit).”
Groenheyde added: “He’s a good kid. He’s young and he was struggling a little bit. I had a little bit of a talk with him and it seems to be going well for him now.”
It really is going well for Groenheyde, too. He is 5-3-0 with a 2.93 GAA and a .897 save percentage. At the time of the trade, he was 1-5-1, 3.67, .873 with the Blazers.
“Yeah, it feels good (to be the starter),” he said. “It’s what I needed. (The Oil Kings) knew that.”
With Groenheyde stopping pucks and the offence coming to life — centre Michael St. Croix had 15 points in 11 November games — the Oil Kings are showing positive signs.
“We’re playing well,” Groenheyde said. “Everyone is coming together. We’ve really calmed down. It’s tough with a young team to get the young guys motivated every night.
“But lots of guys are stepping up every night. The guys who should be stepping up are stepping up and our best players are our best players. That’s what we need to be.”
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