LONDON, Ont. — The Edmonton Oil Kings went deep into the well to beat the favoured team for the Western Hockey League championship. They’ll have to do it again to claim the MasterCard Memorial Cup on Sunday.
The unbeaten Guelph Storm will be the more fuelled team in the championship game on three days of rest.
The Oil Kings have played just over 180 minutes more hockey — the equivalent of three games — than the Storm in the Canadian Hockey League’s championship tournament.
Edmonton is coming off a triple overtime semifinal win over Val-d’Or and the longest game in Cup history Friday. They also lost a double overtime game to the Foreurs in the round robin.
The Oil Kings blew a three-goal lead at home in Game 6 of the WHL final, but the next day travelled to Portland, Ore., and defeated the Winterhawks at home.
It’s that experience they’ll draw on Sunday when they face the explosive Storm.
“We’ve obviously been through a lot of mental adversity,” Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal said Saturday. “They know how to take this day off and just recover and re-focus. Tomorrow is a huge game. It’s a one-game championship game for the Memorial Cup.”
“It’s not a seven-game series. It’s one game. Anything can happen. Obviously Guelph is the favourite in the game if you read all the articles and that. We have a great hockey club. They’re resilient, they confident. There’s a lot of character in that dressing room.
“Our kids are underdogs. There’s no pressure. Our kids are just going to go play and do what they do best.”
The Storm took an energy-efficient route to the final. Guelph concluded their Ontario Hockey League championship in a fifth game more than a week before their first game of the Memorial Cup.
They were ruthlessly efficient outscoring their opposition by a combined 18-7 in the preliminary round, including a 5-2 win over Edmonton.
“I don’t know if we think we’re the favourite, but we know we have a chance and so do they,” Storm captain Matt Finn said. “When we play our way of hockey and skate and cycle the puck and chip and work hard in every battle, we give ourselves a chance to win.
“We want to be the team that lifts that trophy tomorrow. The only way that’s going to get in the way of that is us I think.
“It’s going to come down to how we play and how badly we want it because Edmonton is going to want it too. It comes down to character and heart.”
The Memorial Cup has been handed out to Canadian junior hockey champions since 1919 and is given in memory of those who died in the First World War.
The Windsor Spitfires won back-to-back Cups in 2009 and 2010 followed by three years of teams from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League claiming it.
A WHL team last won it in 2008, when current Montreal Canadiens goaltender Dustin Tokarski backstopped the Spokane Chiefs to the title in Kitchener, Ont.
These Oil Kings have retained eight players from the team that lost in the Cup tiebreaker two years ago in Shawinigan.
A previous Oil Kings team that operated in Edmonton from 1951 to 1976 won Memorial Cups in 1966 and 1963 before moving to Portland.
This edition of the Oil Kings joined the WHL in 2007 and is owned by the Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz. The franchise is looking for its first Cup in its short history.
The Guelph Storm also seek their first Memorial Cup title in their 23-year history. The Guelph Platers won the trophy in 1986 before relocating to Owen Sound.
The Storm boast multiple weapons for the Oil Kings to attempt to contain. Tyler Bertuzzi, Kerby Rychel, Scott Kosmachuk, Jason Dickinson and Brock McGinn are the top five scorers in the tournament with defencemen Finn and Nick Ebert generating scoring chances from the back end.
“They’re a high-octane team,” said Edmonton’s Curtis Lazar, who was the triple-overtime hero.
“They almost remind me a little bit of Portland. They’ve got a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net and they love to play that fast-paced game with a good transition. We’re going to have to ready for that, but it’s going to be fun.”
Guelph has scored six power-play goals on 16 chances in the tournament, including four to eliminate the host London Knights from the tournament.
“We have points in the season when we’ve been playing very well,” Finn said. “I think right now is one of those times when we’re playing really good hockey. We’ve been peaking at the right time so far.”
Led by defenceman and New York Islanders prospect Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton was the stingiest defensive team in the WHL this season with their hard brand of hockey.
The Oil Kings spent Saturday sleeping, drinking water and recovery drinks as well as spending time in compression pants designed to flush lactic acid out of their legs. Lazar, an Ottawa Senators prospect, wasn’t quite ready to start thinking about the final.
“The more you think about it at this point, the less you’re going to sleep tonight,” the assistant captain said. “It’s going to be a quick turnaround with a four o’clock game tomorrow, but when the sun comes up, it’s going to be a pretty good day.”
Finn says the Storm players played baseball and visited the hospital’s children’s cancer ward during their down time.
Guelph is an hour’s drive east of London and with the Knights fans selling their tickets to the final online, the Storm should have a sizable support section Sunday at Budweiser Gardens.