LONDON, ON - The Edmonton Oil Kings now sit two wins away from their first Memorial Cup in modern franchise history but even though this time around they were able to skip the tiebreaker, by virtue of London's loss to Guelph last night, they certainly didn't get there the easy way.
"It's never a for sure thing. I've said it before, and I don't like saying it, but we're almost too comfortable in this position. We've responded well and done well in games that have been like a Game 7 situation (in the past)," Reinhart remarked.
It will absolutely be a Game 7 situation on Friday night against the Val d'Or Foreurs. The winner will advance to Sunday's Final against the Guelph Storm, while the loser sees their season come to an end. Reinhart doesn't expect an easy ride in either game, should the Oil Kings play both.
"At this point in the playoffs and into the Memorial Cup, most guys have been in situations like that and played in the big games," stated Reinhart. "They expect a lot of pressure and I think they're handling it pretty well and will know how to play."
With that said, the big defenceman felt he was confident in Edmonton's ability to come out on top, given the way the team has continually come up large in the biggest games this season.
"It's the character we have in the room. We never give up and we trust each other. Everyone has faith in one another. We play well and do it for each other."
LONDON, ON - The Edmonton Oil Kings will play the same team in back-to-back games when they meet the Val d'Or Foreurs Friday at 5:00 p.m. MT on Sportsnet. It will be the closest thing they've had to a playoff series since this tournament began.
In the last meeting, Edmonton outshot Val d'Or 50-33 and never trailed in the contest but ended up losing in double overtime to the QMJHL opponents. Curtis Lazar talked about wanting to bounce back from that loss and the ability to do it so soon.
"That motivates everyone. We let them off the hook," Lazar began. "We're not going to make the same mistake twice. They're a good hockey club, in saying that. They played a pretty good game. We'll be ready."
Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart talked about the tournament opposition, and specfically about Val d'Or.
"We've played every team now. Every team is good," he said. "They've got a lot of talent and a lot of skill up front, too. Their back-end is good. We've got to keep them to the outside. If we end up playing them again, we've got to do the same things."
Forward Edgars Kulda, who missed on a pivotal penalty shot in the first period, talked about wanting to get back at the team which defeated them on Tuesday night.
"I wanted to get revenge on Val d'Or. We want to win that game (Friday) and you want to get revenge on Guelph too, in the championship. Of course, it will be a good test for us," said Kulda.
"Every game is like a Game 7. You need and try to show your best effort. Right now we ended up Round Robin at 1-2 but I think every team is beatable here. I think we can beat every team. We just need to use our opportunities a little bit more and play more our defensive structure game."
Being their third game in the tournament, the Oil Kings players have had a chance to sit and watch a couple of their opponent's games in person. They expect a tough test against a skilled team.
"We watched the game against London and had a chance to watch most of the game yesterday," Samuelsson began. "They have a lot of good offensively gifted guys and we're just going to have to shut them down and play a defensively-sound game tonight."
Leading the way offensively is Anthony Mantha, who has 82 goals in 83 games this season counting regular season, playoffs and Memorial Cup.
"He definitely knows how to put the puck in the net. Probably Griffin and Sautner are going to have that task to shut them down tonight. They've been doing a good job shutting down top players all year," Samuelsson continued. "If they can do that, that will give us a better chance to win tonight."
Reinhart talked about that challenge, having successfully shut down Prince Albert's Leon Draisaitl in round one among other challenges this season.
"We know that teams here are going to have good players. We can't put all our attention towards Mantha. Obviously, we've heard a lot about him and a few of us have seen him overseas at the World Juniors. He's a good player and we definitely have to key on him but there's other players who can step up as well so we have to focus on the whole team."
Laxdal talked about the other weapons the Val d'Or squad has.
"There's a few players you have to key on that hockey club. If you look at their back end, Gazzola, Gelinas, Graves are their big point producers. Up front, Mantha can score. He's deceiving. He lies in the weeds a little bit and all of a sudden he has great speed for a big man."
Laxdal added that Guelph did a good job neutralizing the 6'5" Mantha.
"They were physical on him early and we have to have that same formula."
The significance of tonight's game wasn't lost on the Oil Kings, who know how big a semifinal berth would be, given that in 2012 the club lost in the tiebreaker game.
"It's a goal in sight and you can look forward to that," said Mitch Moroz. "(But) you've got to focus on the 60 minutes in front of you and don't look too far ahead."
Henrik Samulesson said that the peace of mind that comes with winning tonight along with the rest of not having to play on Thursday would be welcomed.
"It's huge. We got knocked out in the tiebreaker game and that was heartbreaking for us. If we get to the semifinals that will give us a few days to rest and that'll be huge for us because we've played so much hockey in the last few weeks and we need that rest."
The Edmonton Oil Kings can advance to Friday's Memorial Cup Semifinal with a win tonight over the QMJHL's Val d'Or Foreurs.
"Both teams are sitting at 1-1 and there's a lot to play for here tonight, to go to the semi-final and to get home ice for the semi-final is a key part," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal following Tuesday's optional morning skate.
Val d'Or won their tournament opener 1-0 over London last Friday on the strength of 51 saves from goaltender Antoine Bibeau. Last night, they lost 6-3 to Guelph but the Oil Kings head coach felt they played better overall and he expects their best game tonight.
"We've got to play our style. Val d'Or's a big, strong team. They've got some offence there. Even though they lost last night, I thought they played a much better team game than they did against London so obviously they're finding their stride a little bit. For us, we've got to stick to our structure and play our game."
Laxdal hoped to see from his squad a similar effort and performance from Sunday's 5-2 win over the London Knights.
"There were times in the game where London had a push but I thought we recovered well. We didn't have a lot of that D-zone time where we got hemmed in. The one time we did, we took a penalty and they scored in the six-on-five situation. Tonight, we've got to find that level we did when we played against London."
The Oil Kings power play was having trouble connecting in the tournament, going 0-for-5 against Guelph and then 0-for-7 against London until an unlikely hero ended it.
Luke Bertolucci scored with 1:37 left to play in the game on Edmonton's eighth power play of the game and 13th in the tournament.
"I'm not usually on the power play so it was kind of different for me but I was excited to get that one," said Bertolucci after the game.
The winger added that it's just a matter of time before they really start clicking.
"We have great personnel on the power play. We have all the talent in the world out there. We just have to execute it."
Bertolucci talked about the focus that the Oil Kings had going into the game.
"We had to refocus after our last game. Some of the guys stepped up in the room and said stuff. We knew what we had to do and now we have a big one against Val d'Or."
LONDON, ON - A big change for the Oil Kings at the Memorial Cup versus the WHL Playoffs is after a loss they don't get the opportunity to bounce back against the same opponent. The team has been trying to get in that mindset.
"It's such a high-tempo tournament. All the teams are very good here. You have to come out with your best game every day. You don't see these teams all year and don't get to play them so it's quite different," said Jarry.
Lazar added that he hopes that he can bring his World Junior experience to the table, where the feel of that tournament is very similar to this one.
"Still looking for our first win. In a short-term competition you do need those wins. For myself and Griffin (Reinhart) we're going to pass on that knowledge. Just rise to the challenge. Every day there's a new challenge available and it's up for the taking. It's a matter of which team is going to go out there and executive the best to get the win."
LONDON, ON - A big change for tonight for the Oil Kings will be the crowd. While impartial last night, they will be sold out and solidly behind the hometown Knights tonight.
"It was funny, yesterday the rink was packed but the fans didn't really know who to cheer for. They were just there to watch some good hockey," said Curtis Lazar. "Tonight's going to be completely different but we have the experience playing in full barns like Portland. We know what it takes to spoil the party as you could say. Taking the crowd out of it early is going to be key."
Goaltender Tristan Jarry felt that the experience of playing in front of sold out high-capacity crowds in Portland -- and winning two critical games there in Game 5 and Game 7 -- will help his squad this evening.
"Playing in Portland really helped. It helped our players and it helped me with the environment that you're in with the fans. So I think it'll help us here tonight," Jarry remarked.
Coach Laxdal doesn't feel like the crowd will be a factor.
"It doesn't matter what the crowd's like. We have to go out and focus on the team on the ice. The message for us, like any game, is whistle to whistle. Our emotions were high last night in a big competition game and for some of our kids there was a lot of extra activity after the whistles. We have to focus and channel that energy between whistle to whistle to increase our intensity in the game."
LONDON, ON - On the heels of last night's loss to Guelph, the Edmonton Oil Kings had an optional skate on Sunday in which most of tonight's lineup elected to not take part. Instead, the team focused their preparation on an all-new opponent: London.
Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal spoke with the media this morning and reflected on last night's 5-2 loss to OHL Champion Guelph.
"The biggest thing for us is we have to play that really structured game for 60 minutes. I thought we got away from our game a couple of times and when we did, they capitalized. We were sitting there (in the lead at) 2-1. I liked their energy there in the second period. We were pushing. And they got that bounce. They had a couple of bounces last night but overall if you look at it, there's a lot of things we could do better. We could battle a lot harder, we could have more intensity in the offensive zone and defensive zone."
Edmonton now moves on to another Ontario Hockey League opponent in London. Laxdal felt that the team showed that it can play with the best of that league last night with their performance against the champs.
"But the biggest thing for our team last night, we can play with Guelph, we can play with London. Our confidence will grow," he said.
Laxdal was asked about whether tonight was a must-win. And while a 1-2 record wouldn't necessary count them out of the playoff round, Laxdal felt that a bounce back tonight was very important.
"In a short-term tournament like this, that term comes up pretty frequently. Especially when you have to turn around the next day. There's not a lot of prep time for us for London but we held some meetings last night and our kids are resilient. We talked about that in the Portland series and it seems like the way now. We're in a new tournament and we have to be ready to go tonight."
LONDON, ON - The Edmonton Oil Kings hit the ice for their first practice at this Memorial Cup in London on Thursday. It was their first chance to really test what is expected to be challenging ice conditions.
"The humidity was heavy out there. The ice was slow," noted Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal, adding that doesn't give his team a built-in excuse.
"It's going to be the same for every team so we've got to find a way to elevate it. We'll give them a day of practice here and tomorrow there will be more intensity."
The challenge for the head coach is to try and get his team to focus after an emotion seven-game series win over Portland which concluded on Monday night.
"You look at the venue. For these 17-year-olds coming in here, it's starry-eyed for them. We have to get over that and ensure they understand that on Saturday (when they play Guelph at 2:00 p.m. MT), it is a Game 7 in the Memorial Cup."
|Curtis Lazar was one of the Oil Kings who played in the 2012 Memorial Cup.
Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart also spoke to the unfamiliarity aspect with these teams being brand new to most of the players on his team. The only exception being a handful of players on London who were there for the 2012 Memorial Cup and faced the seven Oil Kings who were in that tournament.
"Most guys that have played at this level have played in other tournaments for Canada or their province and you've got to treat it like that, where you don't know other teams. You just come in and focus on your game and don't worry about what's out of your control."
Mitch Moroz talked about how the roller coaster of emotions that occurred in the WHL Championship series will help them with this tournament.
"It showed our ability to reset and have responses. Especially after that Game 6 hearbreak, being able to re-prepare and have a good mindset for Game 7 is what you have to do before every game here. We have the right guys to be able to do that every time and I like the way our team is coming in."
Laxdal agreed with Moroz that focus was key.
"I think we learned from two years ago that you've got to get your rest and stay focused."