LONDON, Ont. – The team wearing the crown on their chest will now wear it on their heads as the Edmonton Oil Kings captured the MasterCard Memorial Cup with a stunning 6-3 win over the Guelph Storm.
The Oil Kings were heavy underdogs and appeared in danger of being run out the rink after a bad start. They settled in after killing off two man advantages and took the game over, out-hitting, out-skating and out-playing the Storm. It was textbook Oil Kings hockey – wear the other team down, grab the lead, and suck the life out of its prey.
“It’s a real dream right now, it’s just unbelievable,” said Edgars Kulda, who received the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP. “Fantasies come true.”
The Oil Kings were underdogs to make it this far. No one picked them to win the Western Hockey League this season, let alone the MasterCard Memorial Cup. In doing so, they may have lifted a jinx. The last WHL team to win the MasterCard Memorial Cup were the 2008 Spokane Chiefs, who dropped the trophy after winning it.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Curtis Lazar. “We didn’t even break the trophy. I guess that’s what the west is famous for right now.”
Why the Oil Kings won: The Oil Kings are exactly who we thought they were: a momentum team that can impose its will physically with a strong cycle. After a bad start that saw them spot the Storm an early goal off a turnover and two power plays, the Oil Kings settled in and began playing a more sound game. They were running around less and picking their spots wisely when engaging physically.
The real test was when the Oil Kings began putting away their opportunities. They stole a page from the Storm’s book by causing turnovers and making the opponent pay. Tyler Robertson got the second period rally going after stealing a puck on a faceoff win by Guelph, while Moroz spotted the Oil Kings a 4-2 lead late in the second period by converting on a rush that began with a Guelph neutral zone turnover.
Edmonton gave Guelph the push back they weren’t used to while a team used to facing adversity showed its true character when tested. The Storm cut into the Oil Kings’ lead early in the third, but the momentum-killers struck back less than two minutes later on a goal by Henrik Samuelsson and never looked back.
“We grind out games,” head coach Derek Laxdal said. “We were fine (trailing) 2-1. We’ve played a lot of games down one and we felt comfortable. Our goal was to get them to play from behind and put them in the uncomfortable position because I don’t think they’ve done that all year. I think we responded. When they got it to 4-3, we scored that fifth goal and I think it really took a lot of pressure off our group.”
Why the Storm lost: The question surrounding the Storm was whether they would know how to respond when faced with adversity. None of their playoff series saw a sixth game, let alone a seventh, so they never tasted the same kind of desperation the Oil Kings were faced with several times the past three weeks.
Guelph had opportunities to stomp on the Oil Kings early in the game. After opening the scoring a minute in, they had back-to-back power plays before the first timeout. Failing to score on those chances gave Edmonton its first bit of momentum, and they would dominate the middle part of the opening period with a 14-1 shots rally.
The Storm were uncharacteristic in their play in the second and third periods. Neutral zone turnovers began going the other way and the Oil Kings made them pay by putting away their chances while the Storm would miss the net on two-on-one breaks.
As the game got closer to its conclusion, the Storm didn’t know how to respond in the face of adversity and some individualistic play crept in.
Player of the Game: Henrik Samuelsson’s five point game was truly special but it was his fourth point of the night that provided the nail in the coffin. With Guelph gaining momentum after cutting the lead to 4-3, Samuelsson restored the two goal lead and later added an empty netter.
“I save (my offence) for important games, I guess,” he said.
Quote of the day: The Oil Kings celebrated the victory with a dear friend. Former teammate Kristians Pelss died last summer after jumping in a lake in his native Latvia. While holding Pelss’ red Oil Kings jersey, Samuelsson said, “Such a good friend and such a good teammate. We miss him dearly, but he’s watching over us right now.”