Once again we are reminded why they play the games, and why there is nothing in reality television that can equal what happens on the field of play.
The WHL-champion Edmonton Oil Kings doubled up on the OHL-champion Guelph Storm, 6-3, in the championship game of the Memorial Cup tournament in London on Sunday.
(Of course, that would be London, Ont., as the CHL, unlike the NFL, doesn’t play neutral-site games on the other side of the pond.)
The Storm went into the game having won its first three games in the tournament, including a 5-2 victory over Edmonton on the second day of the 10-day event. In the tournament’s 43-year history, only 11 teams have gone 4-0; the Storm wasn’t able to make it an even dozen.
The Storm went into the final as the favourite. In some corners, including the pages of the Edmonton Sun, the Storm was a heavy favourite. “Edmonton Oil Kings face heavily favoured Guelph Storm in Memorial Cup final” blared the headline on a Terry Jones column that was posted on the newspaper’s website on Saturday night.
In the end, though, none of that mattered.
The Oil Kings got five points, including two goals, from F Henrik Samuelsson, and a goal and two assists from tournament MVP Edgars Kulda as they erased 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to win their third game of the tournament. They also lost twice -- in regulation time to the Storm and in OT to the Val-d’Or Foreurs.
“I could cry right now,” Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal said in a story posted on the team’s website. “The emotional feelings for our players, to represent the Western Hockey League and bring that trophy back, where all you heard all week was ‘you haven’t won it for five years and Guelph’s this and this.’
“Our kids don’t care who we’re playing. They’re going to play a certain way, they’re going to grind out a win and what do you say about some of the efforts tonight? I thought everybody stepped up. They were focused and ready to put a Grade A effort forward."
The Storm got off to a great start, getting its first lead one minute into the game as F Robby Fabbri, taking advantage of a neutral zone turnover, finished a 3-on-1 break with an open-net tap-in.
Edmonton got that one back on a PP, as D Cody Corbett scored on a one-timer from the high slot at 9:38.
Still, the Storm took a 2-1 lead into the second period when F Stephen Pierog scored off a rebound, at 16:36, after G Tristan Jarry stopped F Pius Suter on a breakaway.
The Oil Kings took over in the second period, however, scoring three times to take a 4-2 lead into the final 20 minutes.
F Tyler Robertson, who scored once in the regular season and twice in the WHL playoffs, pounced on a loose puck off an offensive zone faceoff and beat G Justin Nichols to tie the game at 1:58.
Kulda scored his fourth of the tournament, on the PP, at 6:06, beating Nichols from the left side off the rush and the Oil Kings were feasting now.
F Mitch Moroz got his second of the tournament, from Kulda and Samuelsson, at 14:19, and you had a feeling that the Oil Kings weren’t going to cough up a two-goal lead in the last game of the season.
At the same time, the Storm’s body language indicated that it couldn’t quite believe, never mind try to understand, just what was happening.
Guelph tried to make it interesting as F Zack Mitchell beat Jarry at 3:23 of the third period, but Samuelsson scored 1:37 later and the Storm had been downgraded to a whimper.
It remained for Samuelsson to score into the empty net at 18:34.
Jarry, who saved his best game for last, finished with 32 saves, seven fewer than Nichols.
Edmonton was 2-for-2 on the PP; Guelph went 0-for-2.
How did the Oil Kings win?
“I thought we did a better job of reading their rims off the walls and not activating our defence,” Laxdal explained. “I thought we did a great job on special teams, with two power-play goals. And the belief that we could beat them. You know, they’re a very good hockey club. Great transition. But we knew we had to grind out their defencemen and hunt them.”
This was the first Memorial Cup championship in the modern history of the Oil Kings, who played their first WHL season in 2007-08. The original Oil Kings, a franchise that now is the Portland Winterhawks, won the Memorial Cup twice (1963 and 1966) during a run of seven straight appearances in what was then a best-of-seven East vs. West final.
The Oil Kings are the first WHL team to win the Memorial Cup since the Spokane Chiefs beat the host Rangers in Kitchener in 2008.
JUST NOTES: Samuelsson won the tournament scoring title, the Ed Chynoweth Trophy, with eight points. . . . F Tyler Bertuzzi of Guelph led in goals (5), one more than Samuelsson and Kulda. . . . Guelph D Nick Ebert and Edmonton D Cody Corbett were tops in assists, each with five. . . . Kulda took home the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as MVP. . . . Edmonton F Curtis Lazar got the George Parsons Trophy as most sportsmanlike player. . . . Antoine Bibeau of the Foreurs was named the outstanding goaltender and went home with the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy. . . . The tournament all-star team comprised Bibeau, defencemen Matt Finn of Guelph and Corbett, and forwards Kulda, Samuelsson and Guelph’s Kerby Rychel. . . . Laxdal now has two Memorial Cup titles to his credit. He was a player with Portland when it won the 1983 tournament as the host team. . . . The City of Edmonton will stage an Oil Kings celebration on Wednesday.
1. The 2015 Memorial Cup tournament is scheduled to be held in Quebec City, with the QMJHL’s Remparts as the host team. The Remparts have twice won the trophy (2006, 1971). . . . The Remparts and Chicoutimi Sagueneens both bid on the 2015 tournament. . . . It’s worth noting that the 2015 tournament is to run from May 21 through May 31, meaning next season will end one week later than this one. . . . The WHL will be the host league for the 2016 tournament and the smart money is on Vancouver as the host city.
2. Derek Laxdal has completed four seasons as head coach of the Edmonton Oil Kings. His teams have won one Memorial Cup, two WHL championships and three Eastern Conference titles. The Oil Kings have won 50, 51 and 50 games in each of the last three regular seasons. He has never been named the WHL’s coach of the year.
3. It is believed that at least two WHL teams, the Vancouver Giants and Saskatoon Blades, are wanting to chat with Oil Kings assistant coach Steve Hamilton. . . . The Giants are looking for a head coach; the Blades need a general manager and a head coach.
4. The last time the Oil Kings won a Memorial Cup was 1966. Al Hamilton was a defenceman on that team. Yes, he is Steve’s father. . . . Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal spoke with the proud father and that piece is right here.
5. Some things shouldn’t have a price tag on them and the Memorial Cup is one of them. First awarded in 1919, it was established to honour those Canadians who lost their lives in the First World War. During the 2010 tournament in Brandon, the Memorial Cup was rededicated to honour all of Canada’s war dead, no matter the conflict. . . . As such, it should be the Memorial Cup and should not have a sponsor’s name attached to it.
6. Could it be that the Oil Kings and Winterhawks, who have met in each of the last three WHL championship series, will be in the WHL’s final four from now until eternity? These are clearly the two best organizations in the league. Money is no object and both teams have all the resources needed by championship teams. . . . At the same time, it strikes me that the gulf between the big- and small-market WHL teams never has been wider.
7. Edmonton and Portland each had 11 playoff home games. The Winterhawks drew 107,522 fans to those games; the Oil Kings brought in 80,913 fans. That two-team total of 188,435 accounted for 44.7 per of the WHL’s total playoff attendance.
8. Former Vancouver Giants assistant coach Glen Hanlon has resigned as the head coach of the Belarusian national team. Hanlon made the announcement Sunday as the IIHF world championship wrapped up in Minsk. . . . Belarus reached the tournament’s quarterfinal round for the first time since 2009. . . . It is expected that Hanlon will be named the head coach of the Swiss national team program.
9. Following their weekend prospects camp, the Regina Pats announced they have signed G Jordan Hollett, who was the 13th overall selection in the WHL’s 2014 bantam draft. . . . Hollett, from Langley, B.C., played last season at the Okanagan Hockey Academy, going 23-4-0, 1.75. . . . He is the first goaltender to be taken by the Pats in the first round since the draft’s inception in 1990.
10. D Seth Jones, who played one season (2012-13) with the Portland Winterhawks, was named the best defenceman at the IIHF world championship tournament that concluded Sunday in Minsk, Belarus. Jones, who just completed his first NHL season with the Nashville Predators, was the only player off Team USA to be named to the tournament’s all-star team. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until Oct. 3.
2014 MEMORIAL CUP
(at London, Ont.)
Friday: Val-d’Or 1, London 0 (8,863)
Saturday: Guelph 5, Edmonton 2 (8,842)
Sunday: Edmonton 5, London 2 (8,863)
Monday: Guelph 6, Val-d’Or 3 (8,796)
Tuesday: Val-d’Or 4, Edmonton 3 (2OT) (8,745)
Wednesday: Guelph 7, London 2 (8,863)
Thursday: No game scheduled.
Friday’s semifinal: Edmonton 4, Val-d’Or 3 (3OT) (8,776)
Saturday: No game scheduled.
Sunday’s final: Edmonton 6, Guelph 3 (8,863)
From Regina Pats assistant coach Billy McGuigan (@BillyMcGuigan12): “@EdmOilKings Head Coach Derek Laxdal now has an ECHL championship, 1 Memcup, 2 WHL championships, and 5 league finals appearances #welldone”
There has never been a subscription fee for this blog, but if you enjoy stopping by here, why not consider donating to the cause? Just click HERE. . . and thank you very much.