SPOTLIGHT: Fix-Wolansky’s phenomenal Oil Kings legacy
If we’ve truly seen Trey Fix-Wolansky play his last game as an Edmonton Oil King, it’s without a doubt that we’re saying ‘so long’ to one of the greatest Oil Kings in modern franchise history.
Fix-Wolansky’s junior hockey story has all the makings of a classic; the hometown kid who, after being passed over in the WHL Bantam Draft, was signed by the Oil Kings in 2016 and the rest, as they say, is history.
But the history he made – and the way he went about doing it – is the best part of the story.
After steady improvement during his first two Western Hockey League seasons registering 54 and 89 points, respectively, Fix-Wolansky was about to embark on the biggest year of his hockey career in 2018-19, and he could feel it.
Fresh off of being drafted in the seventh round, 204th overall by Columbus in the 2018 NHL Draft, the diminutive forward had such a positive showing at Blue Jackets development camp he was invited back to take part in main camp in September.
He rejoined the Oil Kings a day before the WHL’s regular season began, just in time to be named the 12th captain in the team’s modern era. It was unchartered territory for Fix-Wolansky.
“I was an alternate captain before, but never the captain of my team,” he admitted. “That was a huge honour for me and did a lot for me, confidence-wise. It showed me that the new coaches and the new GM believed in me.”
With new management and staff in place, he knew there would be pressure on the players themselves to regain the winning pedigree of seasons past after back-to-back playoff absences. He quickly felt confident that his squad could execute the long-awaited turn-around.
“Looking at our roster as soon as it was finalized, we knew things were going to be different,” he said. “I knew a lot of the guys here were capable of having good years, and that’s exactly what happened. I think everyone on our team kinda overachieved, and if you want to have success that needs to happen.”
“I set out to become a leader and there were a lot of guys in that dressing room that helped me be just that,” he said. “They helped me grow as a player and a person, and I know I was able to sort of help them in the same way, as well. We had some great relationships as a team.”
His strong play out of the gate earned him an invite to dress as a member of Team WHL for both games during the CIBC Canada Russia Series in Kamloops and Langley, BC in November. It was the first of a number of opportunities Fix-Wolansky would have to shine under a national spotlight and show how the 5-foot-7 winger measured up against other highly-skilled opponents.
“You just learn how to play at the next level during games like that,” said Fix-Wolansky. “Pretty much all of the guys there were either draft eligible or already drafted, and you’re playing with and against guys that have played at the World Juniors.
“It kinda tells you how you stack up against guys like that and ultimately what you need to do to grow as a player.”
Fix-Wolansky’s production maintained its alarmingly potent pace with 19 goals and 38 assists for 57 points in his first 30 games. However on December 3, when Hockey Canada revealed its list of 34 players invited to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp ahead of the World Junior Championship, his name was glaringly missing – despite at the time being the second-leading Canadian point-getter across the entire Canadian Hockey League.
But he didn’t let the snub have a negative impact on his mindset or his game. Instead, he used it as motivation like he’d done countless times before throughout the course of his hockey career. He put together two 11-game point streaks in the first half of the season; seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points from October 19 to November 16, and 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points from November 21 to December 28.
He finished the regular season with his first 100+ point campaign, tallying 37 goals and finishing tied for fourth in the WHL with 102 points. He set a new record for assists in a single-season in Oil Kings modern franchise history (65), passing Dylan Wruck’s previous mark of 63 reached in 2012-13. He was held pointless just 14 times in the entire regular season.
The Blue Jackets rewarded Fix-Wolansky’s hard work and success by extending him a three-year entry level contract with the Club which he signed on March 15, just before the playoffs were set to get underway.
Yet despite all the personal success, in his mind his goals for the season were still far from being achieved.
The Oil Kings marched into the postseason with a Central Division crown for the first time since 2014, and did so by riding an impressive 11-game win streak to end the regular season campaign. But the streak did more than just secure them a division title, insisted Fix-Wolansky.
“Once we got on that roll [of winning 11 straight games], I think we had unlimited confidence,” he said. “Everybody in that room – even when we were down in games – knew that we could come back and win, and there were a few games during that stretch where we did come back.
“It just shows there was an attitude we had in the room and the type of guys we had; they wanted to strive for excellence and they wanted to do whatever it took for us to be the best team we could be. That win streak played a major role in why we did so well against our first and second round opponents.”
After dismantling Medicine Hat in six games, followed by Calgary in four straight, the Oil Kings ultimately found themselves on the wrong side of a six-game series in the Eastern Conference Championship against the Prince Albert Raiders. It was a tough pill to swallow for the young Oil Kings, as the team fully believed that a trip to the WHL Championship Series was completely within the realm of possibility.
But luckily for Fix-Wolansky, he was able to channel some of that remaining energy into more game action immediately after his Edmonton teammates hung up their skates for the season. The Blue Jackets prospect was on a plane and on his way to Ohio to join the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, in their second round playoff match-up with the defending Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies.
“When I got [to Cleveland], I sat out the first game,” said Fix-Wolansky. “I kinda expected that. I didn’t really expect to be put into the line-up right away.
“But then I went into practice the next day and saw my name in the line-up for Game 2, so I just got into my regular routine and got ready to play.
“Obviously playing against pro guys for the first time was a bit eye opening,” he admitted, “but I felt like I was ready for it after playing in the [WHL] playoffs this year. For sure, it’s a different League, but playoffs are playoffs. They’re played tight. I think coming straight from being in an intense playoff round in Edmonton and heading to Cleveland helped me adjust quickly.”
The captain-turned-rookie certainly didn’t look out of place once he drew into the Monsters line-up. As if playing in your first professional postseason series wasn’t a milestone in itself, he added his first pro point (an assist), followed by his first pro goal in Cleveland’s final game of the series; a 6-2 defeat in Game 4.
With what seems like little-to-no time since that night in Cleveland, Fix-Wolansky is preparing to get back on the ice again in short order, during late June for his second development camp with the Blue Jackets.
As he pursues his first full professional season in 2019-20 and potentially leaves his junior days behind, it’s astonishing to see just how big his impact as an Oil King has been in three short years.
Oil Kings Rookie of the Year in 2016-17. Oil Kings Most Valuable Player and Top Scorer in 2017-18. Oil Kings Most Valuable Player and Top Scorer in 2018-19. Eastern Conference First Team All-Star in 2018-19.
2018-19 WHL Eastern Conference Player of the Year.
Fourth all-time in Oil Kings history in goals (93). Fourth all-time in Oil Kings history in assists (151). Fourth all-time in Oil Kings history in points (244); all this achieved in just 205 regular season games.
For those who like their trivia, they’ll know his first career WHL goal was the Oil Kings first goal of the 2016-17 season, and also the first goal ever scored at Rogers Place; a power play goal at the 0:22 mark of the second period versus the Red Deer Rebels on September 24, 2016. (See above)
If he’s played his last game as an Oil King, his last goal will have been a shorthanded goal against the Prince Albert Raiders at 10:41 of the second period in Game 6 of the third round – the last goal scored by the Oil Kings during the 2018-19 campaign. (See below)
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” he chuckled. “Now that you told me, it means a lot.
“It just makes me even more thankful that this team took a chance on me. I always wanted to help the team out as best I could the last three years, and it’s kinda cool scoring the first goal in the building, and the last goal of the year.”
After so many highlight reel goals and memorable, record-setting achievements, when asked what his favourite memory about being an Oil King has been his answer came easily.
“Honestly, being on this year’s team. Being able to help take a team that was in a drought for two seasons and go to the third round of the playoffs. It was an overall great group of guys here this year, and that’s what I’ll remember the best about being an Oil King.”
Another thing he’s sure of; he knows exactly what he wants to see from the Oil Kings in 2019-20.
“Whether I’m back or not, I want the guys to succeed. I think after what we learned this year, they’re gonna know how to do that.”