I was so ticked when I got sick the week leading into the Memorial Cup. I wanted to do a tournament preview and didn’t get that chance. Maybe a good thing though in hindsight. Because this is basically how it would have read: “This tournament is Guelph, and everyone else”. So I guess it saved me, because the Oil Kings would have made that look ridiculous!
What they pulled off was ridiculous. This is a team that looked to be past it’s window entering the season. They lost a ton of high end guys. Half of the WHL’s best blueline in 2013 (Lowe, Musil, Gernat), a lot of key forwards (St. Croix, Ewanyuk, Foster, Wruck, and Legault) and then of course they lost Laurent Brossoit between the pipes. Of course everyone knew they had a gem in Tristan Jarry, but Brossoit was a stud in the WHL and had proven himself. Jarry had put up great numbers against weak competition and with such a great defensive squad in front of him.
The Calgary Hitmen had taken them 7 in 2013 and most expected them to over take Edmonton as the top team in the East, and even if Edmonton was to make it out of the East there would be no way they would be beating the defending WHL champs from Portland.
But Derek Laxdal really took his coaching stock to another level. Sure they had high end guys still in Lazar, Samuelsson, Moroz and getting Griffin Reinhart back from the Islanders this season was a nice surprise. But still this teams depth was a huge question mark and he molded guys like Pollock, Sautner, Mayo, Irving, Eller, and Kieser.
It isn’t as if this team shocked the world. But it was clear out of the gate that while this team wasn’t as talented as the team that lost in 6 games to Portland in the WHL final, they were a team that had everyone on the same page. All season they didn’t wow you on the ice, but they were incredibly efficient.
After cruising through the Eastern conference playoffs (in large part thanks to Kootenay upsetting Calgary), the Kings looked outmatched in the first 2 games of the final in Portland. The Winterhawks just looked too deep and too talented. But when the series got back to Edmonton, the Oil Kings started taking over the series by playing their game, and matching lines that took the Winter Hawks big guns like Nic Petan out of the series.
They pulled off the huge road win in game 5 of the series to take a 3-2 lead home and then held a 5-2 lead in the 3rd period of game 6. Then the roof caved in. They imploded, blowing the lead and losing in OT to force a game 7 in Portland the next night. They were done. You don’t take a blow like that and get back up.
But they did get back up, even after trailing 1-0 after the first period of game 7. They exploded in the 2nd period and rode that 4 goal outburst to a 4-2 win and the Ed Chynoweth Cup. We should have known right then that nothing could rattle this team from that point on.
Going into the Memorial Cup, I didn’t give them much of a shot. They had to play 3 games in 4 days, they had so much travel in the Portland series and then to go from Portland to Edmonton to Portland to Edmonton to London in 7 days and then play 3 games in 4 days I just thought it was far too much to ask of a junior team.
They didn’t look that good in the round robin, so maybe that travel was affecting them. Lost the opener to Guelph and lacked jump in their game. Played well against London, but London was just done as a team as we found out. And then blew the game against Val Dor, losing in double OT. Now they needed Guelph to beat London (and the Storm had nothing to play for as they were already in the final). If London wins, the Oil Kings would have had to play 3 more games to win the tournament.
But luckily, the Knights had no fight, and the Oil Kings caught a break in advancing to the semi final for a rematch against Val Dor (fun fact, the name Voyeur stands for Drillers in english, so they are the VD Drillers….just saying…). They blew it AGAIN. 2 goal lead, gone. Lead with under a minute to play, gone. And yet it just didn’t seem to faze them and they kept grinding. And in the 2nd OT, they kept grinding, and into the 3rd OT they just stuck with it until Lazar with a gorgeous tip ended the longest game in Memorial Cup history.
I really figured that was the “B final” so to speak. Guelph looked great in the tournament and while the Oil Kings were so well coached and had the ability to shut down some of the Storm’s top guns like Rychel and Bertuzzi, the Storm seemingly just had too much speed, too much talent, and were basically playing a home game. So that’s how smart I am….they had just played this game 13 days previous.
I said it in a tweet after and I really believe this, Guelph hadn’t been tested all season long. They had not been in an elimination game all season let alone a tight elimination game. That was the difference in this game. For the Oil Kings, this was nothing and once they made it a 2-2 game early in the 2nd their confidence level clearly shot through the roof. The game was really done by this point. Even when the Storm started the 3rd strong and made it 4-3, it didn’t even phase the Kings who came back with a huge goal from Henrik Samuelsson to restore the 2 goal lead.
In a way it is sad that the most structured team to play in Rexall this season was the junior team, but that was the case. And I know it got overused by me on twitter and by the media but this team really was one of the most resilient junior hockey teams you’ll ever see. They were playing for their boy Kristians Pelss all season and they did him damn proud!
Congrats to the 2014 Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings. They brought a title back to the WHL, and gave a city and region starved for some well played high end hockey something to be proud of. A team in every single sense of the word.
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