Mitchell Moroz #29 of the Edmonton Oil Kings (R) celebrates his goal at 6:39 of the second period on the powerplay along with Dysin Mayo #37 against the Val-d’Or Foreurs during the 2014 Memorial Cup tournament at Budweiser Gardens on May 23, 2014 in London, Ontario, Canada.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
LONDON, Ont. -- Early Sunday afternoon, about 75 minutes before they play in the Memorial Cup championship final game against the OHL champion Guelph Storm, the Oil Kings ‘Boys on the Bench’ will convene for the final time this season.
For that matter, it will be the final pre-game chill session of their junior careers on the CHL’s biggest stage for Cody Corbett, Henrik Samuelsson, Reid Petryk, Brett Pollock, Griffin Reinhart, Blake Orban and Ashton Sautner.
“It’s a little ritual of ours that we’ve been doing all this season,” said Corbett, who has signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche and will be playing pro somewhere next season. “There’s a couple of us that have done it for a few years, since we first came here.
“It’s just something that soothes our mind a little bit before the game, and just kind of calms us down. We have a little fun throwing pucks in the net and playing our little game and stuff, just to try to relax a little bit before our battle.”
In major junior hockey, Sunday’s matchup (2 p.m. MDT, Rogers Sportsnet) is the ultimate battle, one that eluded the Oil Kings core group two years ago in Shawinigan, Que., when they lost the tiebreaker and were the first team eliminated from the tournament.
The Oil Kings are in the final this time out, having qualified by way of an incredibly dramatic 4-3, triple overtime victory over the Val d’Or Foreurs in the semifinal Friday night.
You have to get to the rink early to see the ‘Boys on the Bench,’ but their pre-game routine varies little, game to game. Hockey players being hockey players, they are deathly averse to changing the luck.
“We do small talk,” Corbett said. “We just talk about life, the other team, what we’re going to be prepared for in the game. Just a little of everything.”
Will the final session be a bit wistful for the group?
“I’m sure it will,” Corbett said. “We’ll do something to make it fun for the last time for us.
“I’m sure there will be some heartfelt words before the game.”
Reinhart, the Oil Kings team captain, only joined the pre-game group after he returned from playing for Team Canada at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden. Not that they needed official sanctioning from the captain. In fact, the more the merrier.
“Most of those guys have been here for the last three years,” Corbett said. “We’re really close and are really good friends.
“I think he just thought why don’t I go out and join the boys?”
The focus now is an easy one, obviously, for these seven pals and the rest of the Oil Kings. It’s natural to wonder about fatigue — mental and physical — being a factor for the Oil Kings, who have played the equivalent of five games, compared to just three for Guelph, whose spotless, 3-0 won-lost record earned them automatic passage to the final game.
The Oil Kings played 63 minutes and 57 seconds of overtime over two games against a talented and resilient Val d’Or team that won the round robin game on a breakaway goal in double overtime, but lost the semifinal in triple overtime on Curtis Lazar’s deflection of a Corbett slap-pass from the point.
On Saturday, the Oil Kings had a day off from the rink to rehydrate, rest, get some full-body massage treatment, whatever was available to help them physically recover.
Directly after the exhausting semifinal, though, Lazar was downplaying the possibility of fatigue being a significant factor in the final against a rested Guelph team.
“We’ll see what happens,” Lazar said. “We’ve sort of got that momentum now, having to play.
“But they’ve had that time off. So, it’s going to be a cool mix. You’re going to go out there, it’s a 60-minute game — er, hopefully.
“But, I mean, let’s just go out there and leave it all on the ice.”
The Oil Kings are a close-knit group, like many junior teams. Given the ups and downs they have gone through over three or more years, including that roller-coaster WHL final series victory over Portland, not to mention the highs and lows of this tournament, those bonds are powerful as the group prepares for one last go-round before graduation, as it were.
“This is the closest group of guys I have ever played with,” Corbett said. “Everybody is so good to each other.
“We’re going to be friends forever, I know that.”
For their part, the Storm, the pre-tournament favourites, have a core group of seven or eight players, too, who have been with Guelph for four or more years. All of them have been frustrated the last three straight seasons, when Guelph was eliminated from the first round of the OHL playoffs.
Storm captain Matt Finn said he and his teammates watched the triple overtime semifinal “right to the end,” although, like Lazar, he didn’t put much stock in fatigue making much of a difference in the final.
“At the end of the day, it won’t matter,” Finn said. “It’s such a big stage and big game that you’re going to have to bring it when the puck drops.
“And everything that happened before ... won’t matter.”
How deeply into that well of shared experience will the Storm dip as they, too, try to win a championship?
“Huge,” Finn said. “We’ve waited four years for this opportunity, five in some cases.
“Guys being able to come here and do it in their last year, hopefully, would be something you’ve worked so hard for and would be such a great way to tip your hat and walk off into the sunset.”
This Memorial Cup final should be a classic.
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