LONDON, Ont. – The Edmonton Oil Kings don’t want to leave their fate to chance.
That didn’t work too well the last time they faced the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Val-d’Or Foreurs. Antoine Bibeau clamped the door shut long enough for the Foreurs to find their legs and next thing the Oil Kings knew, they walked away with a 4-3 double-overtime loss in a game they had all but wrapped up midway through the first period on Tuesday.
“That’s what Val-d’Or does – they do a great job of just hanging around, their goaltender keeps them in it and when they get a chance, they jump on it,” Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal said. “I thought we deserved a better fate.
“I think our guys would like another crack at Val-d’Or.”
Now they have it with a berth in Sunday’s final against the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm on the line.
Is Mantha ready to break out?
Val-d’Or’s biggest offensive weapon is slumping, by his standards. Five of the eight times he was held without a goal in back-to-back games this season, he bounced back with a multi-goal game. He will need a hat trick to return to his goal per game pace after two goalless games.
"If I get a hat trick, the chances that we win could be great," he said Thursday.
Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart will be tasked with making it three straight games without a goal for his former world junior teammate. It’s a matchup of No. 8s that was only partly successful for the Oil Kings on Tuesday. Mantha may not have scored but he stole the puck from Reinhart in Edmonton’s defensive zone and created the tying goal.
"He’s a heck of a player," Laxdal said of Mantha. "He’s a big, strong kid that’s got a knack for the net and he’s got deceiving speed for a big man and he’s got that kind of sneaky compete on pucks.
"He made a great play on their third goal."
Which goalie will make the difference?
The running script of this year’s MasterCard Memorial Cup is how Val-d’Or’s success lays completely on Bibeau’s shoulders. When he’s hot, the Foreurs win games while his team is being dominated.
Henrik Samuelsson spoke Thursday of getting more of a presence in front of Bibeau’s net and jamming away at rebounds while Foreurs head coach Mario Durocher said he wants his forwards to start closing off the slot – which was open all game on Tuesday.
The pressure may be more on Tristan Jarry to match the saves Bibeau makes when considering Bibeau will see a steady stream of shots whereas Jarry will be faced with long breaks in action.
"I want to hit the ball back to him and that’s what I’m going to do," Jarry said of a potential goalie battle. "He’s going to make some saves, I know he is, and hopefully I can do the same."
Can the Oil Kings break out?
Laxdal said several times since Tuesday’s game that if Edgars Kulda converted on his penalty shot with his team already in front 2-0, the outcome could have been different. The Oil Kings aren’t known to make it easy on themselves. Coughing up a three goal lead in Game 6 of the WHL final at home is proof of that.
Heartache, however, appears to be the necessary fuel for their fire as they have shown the ability to follow a stinker with a big win.
"I’ve said it before and I don’t like saying it, but we’re almost too comfortable in this position," Reinhart said. "We always did a good job of bouncing back and we’ve responded well and done well in a Game 7, elimination game situation."
They’re a momentum team that, when engaged, grabs hold of a game or stomps on it when they see momentum creeping in the other team’s game.
"The game’s all about momentum," Reinhart said. "It can change so fast. It can be a turnover, it can be a hit, it can be a goal – it can be anything. You got to try to keep momentum as long as you can because no lead is really safe against any teams here."
Can the Foreurs dial back in their playoff intensity?
The Foreurs looked tired in this tournament after a long playoff season. Durocher took a page from Patrick Roy’s book in describing how his team can regain that intensity.
"This is what you need – heart and balls," he said. "The boys just have to put their heart there and their balls there because we need that. That’s the commitment all the guys decide to do before the playoffs started."