Oil Kings crowned Memorial Cup champions
Edmonton weathers Storm with three-goal second period
LONDON, ONT. — The Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm — deep, fast and skilled — were meant to be unstoppable, but in the end they had no answer for the power game played by the Edmonton Oil Kings’ top line of Henrik Samuelsson, Mitch Moroz and Edgars Kulda.
Led by Samuelsson’s two-goal, five-point performance, which made him the tournament’s leading scorer with eight points, the Oil Kings dominated the Storm for most of two periods in the Memorial Cup final to win the title going away on Sunday, 6-3.
It is the third national championship in franchise history — the other two coming in 1963 and ’66 — and it’s a welcome balm for long-suffering hockey fans in a city starved for excellence from its NHL club.
This becomes, then, the first Memorial Cup title for the so-called “modern-era” Oil Kings, who were revived under the ownership of the Edmonton Oilers for the 2007-08 season. The Oil Kings competed in the 2012 Memorial Cup tournament in Shawinigan, Que., but were eliminated in the tiebreaker, an experience that proved to be useful experience for this team.
“Me and Sammy (Samuelsson) talked about putting our big-boy pants on at various times in the tournament,” said Moroz, an Edmonton Oilers prospect who is probably headed for the NHL club’s Oklahoma City farm team next year.
“That was what we did. We just played the game. We picked up our lunch pails and played with some grit and played with some jam. We were just business. We went to work and we were rewarded for it.”
Moroz chipped in with a goal and an assist, while Kulda produced a goal and two assists, for the Oil Kings, who overcame early 1-0 and 2-1 Guelph leads and took command of the final with three unanswered second-period goals to build a 4-2 lead.
Kulda, who scored a key goal in the Oil Kings’ semifinal victory in triple overtime over Val d’Or Foreurs on Friday, suffered from dehydration that night, his legs, he had said “had stopped playing,” in overtime.
That marathon came just four days after the Oil Kings lost 4-3 in double overtime, also to Val d’Or.
Edmonton played the equivalent of an entire extra game in the tournament — six games, in effect, to four for Guelph. But fatigue in Sunday’s final? No way.
“You know, at the end, it’s the finals,” Kulda said. “There’s no such thing as being tired. You get dehydrated? It’s all in my mind. You need to just keep going and going.”
Kulda led a chorus of plaudits for Samuelsson, the popular power forward who, during the post-tournament, on-ice celebrations, held fast to the jersey of former teammate Kristians Pelss, who drowned in his native Riga, Latvia, following the 2012-13 season. The Oil Kings played this season to honour their fallen teammate, tapping into that emotional wellspring for inspiration and motivation almost daily.
Samuelsson was the proverbial beast in the final.
“Sammy is a great player,” said Kulda, who like Pelss is a strong, skilled winger from Riga. “There’s a reason why he was a first-round draft pick. I was very happy to play with him this tournament.”
As much as that line was the force of nature that carried the Oil Kings past the Storm, Edmonton got contributions from all of its players, including an unlikely but crucial early second-period goal from fourth-liner Tyler Robertson, who joined the Western Hockey League club in December.
That goal, at 1:58 of the second period, pulled the Oil Kings even with Guelph, which got first-period goals from Robbi Fabri and Stephen Pierog.
“It was probably the biggest goal of my whole life,” said Robertson, a Sherwood Park native who scored once in 26 regular-season games with the Oil Kings.
“You can’t get much bigger than Memorial Cup. I’m just happy I can contribute when I’m out there, because I’m just an energy guy. It was a real honour to get that one.”
Another key for Edmonton was that goalie Tristan Jarry outperformed Justin Nichols, his counterpart for Guelph. In the end, Jarry stopped 32 of the 35 shots he faced and was rock-solid from start to finish.
Jarry had his ups and downs during the WHL playoffs and this tournament, but through more than 42 minutes of overtime in the semifinal and the entire final game, he was superb.
“He’s an amazing kid,” said Dustin Schwartz, the Oil Kings goalie coach. “He’s done so many great things all year, he’s so composed.
“When we get into the nitty-gritty, the timely saves are outstanding. And he’s given it to us all year long.”
Jarry, who was the understudy to Laurent Brossoit for two seasons, experienced his first playoff and Memorial Cup action and clearly elevated his game.
“I wanted to do what I could for the team,” said Jarry, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect. “I knew they were going to come out hard for me and do what they could by putting the puck in the net.
“I just wanted to return the favour and stop a couple for them.”
His performance was crucial, especially against the high-octane Storm, who scored a Canadian Hockey League-high 340 goals this season. Given their veteran depth, speed and skill, Guelph was considered unstoppable by many observers.
Jarry was acutely aware the Oil Kings were rated heavy underdogs in the final game.
“We’ve been underdogs most of the season,” Jarry said. “I think that just gives us the motivation and some confidence to go out there and play our game and do what we can.
“Obviously, we don’t have that huge weight of being the top team on our shoulders. That lets us go out and play.”
That weight may have slowed the Storm down in the end.
When the Oil Kings took the lead in the second period on Kulda’s goal, it was just the second time in the tournament Guelph had trailed. The other time was a 2-1 deficit to the Oil Kings in the round-robin game won 5-2 by the Storm.
Playing their first elimination game all season and playing from behind both were new experiences for the Storm. But those circumstances were old hat for the Oil Kings, from the topsy-turvy, seven-game Portland Winterhawks series in the WHL final to the ups and downs of the Memorial Cup tournament.
“Just grind it out, keep on grinding, we’re so comfortable in these close games and it really showed tonight,” said Oil Kings centre Curtis Lazar. “Like Game 7 against Portland, we found a way to spark the offence when we got our chances and we made them pay.”
Oil Kings general manager Randy Hansch, originally a scout with the club who replaced Bob Green shortly before training camp last August, was ecstatic following the game.
“It’s very satisfying,” said Hansch. “I’m just very proud of the kids. They bought into everything and they paid a lot of dues.”
The payoff came Sunday night, as emphatic as it was unexpected, in a game the Storm had no answer for some guys in “big-boy pants.”
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