MacKinnon: Oil Kings ‘take care of business’
Resilient underdogs become Memorial Cup champions
The Edmonton Oil Kings celebrate after beating the Guelph Storm 6-3 to win the Memorial Cup hockey tournament in London, Ont., on Sunday, May 25, 2014. It’s the Oil Kings’ third Memorial Cup victory in franchise history and their first in 48 years.
Photograph by: Dave Chidley, THE CANADIAN PRESS
LONDON, Ont. — When the Edmonton Oil Kings team bus rolled to a stop at Budweiser Gardens on Sunday, associate coach Steve Hamilton stood up and delivered a heartfelt message to the Western Hockey League team.
Hamilton’s dad, Al, won the Memorial Cup as an Oil Kings player back in 1966.
“He said, ‘All right, guys, the future Memorial Cup champions are getting ready to get off the bus,’ ” said Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar. “Everyone had a smile on their face and we got off the bus and we took care of business.”
Did they ever.
Edmonton emphatically defeated the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm 6-3, overcoming early 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to claim the first Memorial Cup for an Oil Kings franchise in 48 years, and the third overall. The Oil Kings also won the title in 1963.
The victory came six years to the day after goalie Dustin Tokarski backstopped the Spokane Chiefs to victory over the Kitchener Rangers, the last time a WHL club won the Canadian Hockey League championship.
The Oil Kings were led by centre Henrik Samuelsson, who had five points and a pair of third-period goals, including an empty-net goal in the final moments that was an exclamation mark on an extraordinary season for Edmonton.
Linemate Edgars Kulda, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, had a goal and two assists, while Mitch Moroz, the left winger on the line, chipped in with a goal and an assist.
Samuelsson, in the end, was the tournament’s leading scorer.
“There’s no way you’re not going to come prepared for this game,” Samuelsson said. “It was the most exciting game of my life.”
So dominant was the Samuelsson line, it spent one entire shift in possession of the puck deep in the Guelph zone. The Storm finally iced the puck, which prompted Guelph coach Scott Walker to call a time out.
Samuelsson, team captain Griffin Reinhart, Lazar, Moroz and defenceman Cody Corbett were among the group of Oil Kings who played in that disappointing 2012 Memorial Cup. And Reinhart suffered a tendon cut that kept him out of the 2013 WHL final, so this victory was especially sweet for a player who is expected to play with the NHL’s New York Islanders next season.
“It’s huge,” Reinhart said. “It’s not too often you get a (chance at a) second tournament like this and get to compare yourself to other leagues and play against the other championship teams.
“It’s an incredible feeling.”
If Hamilton set the tone on the bus, his message also reinforced the profound self-belief the team has demonstrated numerous times.
“It needed to be said,” an emotional Hamilton said amid the post-game, on-ice celebration involving families, players and club management.
“It’s what we do, we believe in things that are out there and grab hold of them. They knew it; it just needed to be said. I never wavered in my belief in those guys and they never wavered in their belief in themselves.”
Plenty of teams would have wavered, if not buckled at any of a number of points along the Oil Kings’ bumpy pathway to the national championship.
In the WHL final against the Portland Winterhawks, the Oil Kings rallied from being down two games to none. After they won three straight to take control of the series, they blew 3-0 and 5-2 leads in Game 6 in Edmonton, then rallied to win Game 7 in Portland.
In London, the Oil Kings lost 5-2 to Guelph, in part owing to an own goal in which winger Mads Eller’s clearing attempt bounced into the Edmonton net off Guelph star Kerby Rychel.
They endured two multi-overtime marathons against the Val d’Or Foreurs, the Quebec league champions, losing 4-3 in double overtime on Tuesday night, then beating them 4-3 in triple overtime on Friday night. That left Edmonton less than 40 hours to recover and regroup to face Guelph.
The Storm were a rested bunch, having rolled through the round robin with a spotless 3-0 record.
But the Oil Kings did not play tired on Sunday. After falling behind early, they took over the game, sparked by an early second-period goal by little-used fourth-liner Tyler Robertson at 1:58 of the middle frame.
“What do you say about this group of kids?” asked head coach Derek Laxdal, who made a point of his whole bench, however selectively for the likes of Robertson and his linemates, Brandon Baddock and Cole Benson.
“I really wanted to get those kids into it in part of the game. I felt at 2-1, you know what, I’m going to give them a shot and they score a goal. That just sets the table for the game. That just propelled our confidence in the game.”
This was a true team effort by the Oil Kings, trite as that might sound to some. And it is one with many intergenerational links, none more resonant than the one between Steve Hamilton and his dad, the ex-Oilers defenceman from the WHA days, now Oil Kings champions nearly half a century apart.
“My dad is the best man I know,” Steve Hamilton said. “It is unbelievable to have that connection.”
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