Ben Harpur #7 of the Guelph Storm skates against Edgars Kulda #23 of the Edmonton Oil Kings at the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup at Budweiser Gardens on May 17, 2014 in London, Ont.
Photograph by: Claus Andersen, Getty Images
LONDON, Ont. — It was not the start the Oil Kings had planned for, or believed they were primed for in their second go-round at the MasterCard Memorial Cup Tournament in three years.
Hoping to capitalize on their previous Memorial Cup experience — eight Edmonton players also played in the 2012 tournament — the WHL champion Oil Kings sabotaged themselves with miscues, including an own goal, and were whipped 5-2 Saturday by the OHL champion Guelph Storm.
The first costly mistake was a needless roughing penalty taken by defenceman Aaron Irving late in the first period. Kerby Rychal used the opportunity to score the first of his two power play goals with just 4.2 seconds left in the period to stake Guelph to a 1-0 lead. A pity, that, because it was an evenly played opening 20 minutes.
Rychel scored his second power play goal at 7:40 of the second period when Oil Kings forward Mads Eller’s clearing attempt from behind the Edmonton goal-line caromed off the Guelph forward and past a startled Tristan Jarry, the Oil Kings goaltender.
That was a mini-dagger, coming after the Oil Kings, on goals 27 seconds apart by centre Henrik Samuelsson and defenceman Ashton Sautner, had reclaimed the lead before the second period was two minutes old in a marvellous illustration of push back.
Then ... oops!
“I was not very happy at that moment,” said Eller, who bent over, stick across his knees the instant he realized his mistake. “We just went up 2-1 and it was an important (penalty) kill and just having an unlucky bounce like that, at the moment, it really sucked.
“But the guys helped me and told me to put my head up and just keep going.”
Head coach Derek Laxdal spoke with Eller on the bench immediately after that play, which was not the correct option in that specific situation, but is a routine play often used by the Oil Kings. When the opposing team dumps the puck in, as Guelph did, Jarry stops the puck and sets it up for a teammate to clear the puck from the zone.
“Eller did a great job coming back, but he had his head down,” Laxdal said. “He’s got two options on that.
“If he’s on his forehand with momentum he can skate into it hard and rim it out. Or he can go back and usually the middle of the ice is open, so he can fire it up the middle.
“He didn’t have his head up there and Rychel just skated in front of him. That happens, it’s part of the game. And it was 2-2 then, so we were fine.”
Rychel couldn’t believe his good fortune on that goal, which never touched his stick. He was just cruising by on the forecheck.
“To be honest, I kind of thought about it in my head,” Rychel said, on recognizing the possibility in that moment. “But I think about a lot of crazy things on the ice.
“Obviously, it was a really lucky goal and I’ll take it.”
For their part, the Oil Kings chalked that goal up to a ‘that’s hockey,’ moment and recognize they helped Guelph out with a cluster of their own miscues.
“It would be nice to get a win off the start, but we didn’t do that and we’ve got to look at the positives,” said Oil Kings team captain Griffin Reinhart. “We proved to ourselves that we can compete at this level.
“We just made some boneheaded mistakes and took some dumb penalties that cost us. We’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to realize it’s not a seven-game series, it’s one game against each team.
“So, I think we’ll learn from that and we’ll be better.”
It was the 3-2 goal, a high, hard wrist shot by Guelph winger Brock McGinn that caromed off the crossbar and in at 14:52 of the second period that did more serious damage to the Oil Kings than the own goal, in Laxdal’s estimation.
“I thought we got exposed with a couple of our young defenceman tonight,” Laxdal said. “It’s part of the experience of the Memorial Cup, so they’ll be better (Sunday) night.”
Neither goalie was brilliant in this one, with both Justin Nichols of Guelph and Jarry surrendering at least one soft goal. Tyler Bertuzzi scored a pair of third period insurance goals for Guelph, both on wrist shots, at least one of which Jarry might want back.
The Oil Kings play the host London Knights on Sunday (5 p.m. DT) in a crucial game for both teams. London lost 1-0 to Val d’Or, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion, in the tournament opener on Friday night, so both teams are 0-1 and desperate for a victory.
Laxdal believes, as his team did between a devastating Game 6 loss to Portland and its Game 7 victory, the Oil Kings will bounce back with their A game against London.
“I can tell you it wasn’t as bad as it was after Game 6 against Portland,” Laxdal said. “The guys understand what’s going on here.
“They understand they have to regroup, they understand they have to be better.
“We’ve got to get better efforts from our whole team and step up our game. We’re one game into it, now, we’re experienced, it’s time to move on.
“The kids were upbeat after the game. We’ll be ready to play (Sunday) night.”
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