LONDON, ON - The Edmonton Oil Kings are in familiar territory tonight as they take on the Val d'Or Foreurs with an opportunity to advance to Sunday's Memorial Cup Final against Guelph with a win.
"It's an elimination game. And like both teams, we started preparing yesterday. It makes it interesting for both teams because we played each other on Tuesday night. It's a huge game. They know us pretty well, we know them pretty well and I think it will be a great game," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal this morning.
Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart talked about the team's ability to draw on past experiences, such as Game 7 in the WHL Final against Portland.
"It happened in Portland, Game 6 (we lost in overtime) and then came back to win Game 7 the next night. I think just the whole year, not just that series, we came back really strong. We've always had a good response to adversity and we can expect the same tonight," Reinhart remarked.
Curtis Lazar said the playoff feel isn't there but the ability to draw on their experience will still help.
"The intensity is there, but it's nothing like the playoffs. We have experience playing in front of large crowds at Rexall and Portland but it's a one shot opportunity. You have to capitalize on it," said Lazar, adding that Val d'Or has some experience in big games as well.
"Our Game 7 experience is going is really going to help us out but in saying that, they have a couple of Game 7 experiences too. It's going to be a really interesting storyline to follow because both teams know how to deal with the pressure and the urgency so it's going to be really cool to see how it plays out."
Val d'Or's experience comes with a 4-3 Game 7 win over Baie Comeau in the QMJHL Final and a 3-2 win over Halifax in the previous round. Both wins came on the road and also came after winning Game 6 to force the deciding game.
LONDON, ON - Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal was asked how Edmonton and Val d'Or compares when you look at the lineups.
"You've got some great match-ups in this game. You look at the tenders, you look at the back-ends, the top nine or top 12 forwards. It makes for a great game tonight," he said, adding that he hopes to match Reinhart up with Val d'Or sniper Anthony Mantha.
"He knows the job that he's got to do and I'm sure that Mantha knows he's going to see Reinhart quite a bit tonight but they've got last change so I'm sure Mario (Durocher, Val d'Or head coach) will be working that change as much as he can."
Mantha has 82 goals in 84 games this season when regular season, playoffs and Memorial Cup are all factored in. Reinhart and Mantha were teammates at the World Juniors for Canada so both know each other well.
"Everyone in that tournament became close with one another. I can't really say I know all his secrets, he's a pretty crafty guy. He's a big, powerful forward and has skill and speed. He's hard to contain. I'm just going to try and keep him to the outside and take away space," Reinhart said, adding that he's not sure how much he'll be able to see of Mantha given that the Foreurs have last change by virtue of being second in the round robin.
"They get last change so we'll have to see how that goes but I think that's what the match-up is going to look like. But whether I'm out there or a different line, we've got confidence in all our D-men."
Laxdal said that even if Associate Coach Steve Hamilton, who controls defence match-ups, is not able to get Reinhart out there for whatever reason, he has confidence his team will be able to respond to the junior star's scoring prowess.
"We've got some other guys who can step up. For us, we need our top six players to be our best players tonight and obviously Tristan Jarry's got to have an outstanding game," he said. "If we don't get that match-up, Dysin Mayo and Cody Corbett have done a great job all year. And we have three lines that can play the Mantha line."
Laxdal added that Val d'Or is more than just a one-man team.
"If you deal with the Mantha line, you've got the young kids coming back. The (Anthony) Richards, and those kids can score."
Despite not playing all that well in any of the three round-robin games, Val d'Or finished with the second-best record and as a result will earn the distinction of being the home team tonight.
"It's huge for us because we played two series in seven games in the Q and we need some rest," said Richard, after scoring the double-OT winner to defeat the Oil Kings on Tuesday. "That two days off is huge for us."
It's no secret that Val d'Or depends heavily on the play of goaltender Antoine Bibeau. He has faced 50 or more shots in both of his team's wins.
"Antoine is just awesome," Foreurs captain Samuel Henley said. "He keeps us in the game every time. He keeps everyone calm in the room. He's such a good goalie, a good teammate and a good player. We probably wouldn't have won the game without him."
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."
Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish is in London, Ontario to take in the Memorial Cup and watch one of the team’s prospects on the Edmonton Oil Kings, Mitch Moroz.
MacTavish was on Sportsnet’s broadcast of the Memorial Cup last night and commented on Moroz.
“He’s had a terrific year, I think he had 15 goals the year before, he’s had 35 goals this year,” MacTavish said. “He’s obviously a guy we’ve watched extensively playing in Edmonton.”
“Very tough,” he continued. “He’s definitely a sheriff at this level. We’re all excited in Edmonton, the Oilers that is, to get Mitch in our organization. We think he’s going to be a very bright spot in our future.”
Moroz had 63 points (35-28-63) in 70 games during the regular season. In 21 playoff games, Moroz has posted 19 points (6-13-19).
Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish was on Sportsnet’s broadcast of the Memorial Cup last night and spoke with the panel about what the mood is like out there in regards to trade talk and movement.
MacTavish said that it’s all quiet on that front but should heat up after the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“The trade deadline was a little anti-climatic I thought this year,” he said. “But it’s really a little bit of a lull right now from a managerial standpoint. There’s not too too much going on with the NHL playoffs, including here in the next month but it will heat up very quickly. There are a lot of teams that are going to have a lot of pressure to get better very quickly, the Edmonton Oilers certainly being one of those teams and we’re going to be doing what we did last year. (That is) making the phone calls and trying to see what the market is out there to help ourselves improve.”
The two day event includes a silent auction and hockey tournament to raise awareness and funds for the Neurosurgery Kids Fund at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. In the first year of existence, this tournament helped raise $68,000 which was then matched by CN Miracle for a total of around $140,000. The goal was $15,000.
“What started as an idea has grown into an amazing life experience,” said Chris Branco, one of the founders of the event. “Never did I think that my love for hockey would introduce me to an inspiring group of kids from the The Neurosurgery Kids Fund, who I now call my friends.”
Oilers TV’s Tom Gazzola and edmontonoilers.com’s Chris Wescott will be playing in the tournament along with local media celebrities Dustin Nielson from TSN 1260, Ryan Jespersen from Breakfast TV and Min Dhariwal from CBC.
“We did this last year and it was fantastic,” Gazzola said. “Chris and his group did such an outstanding job organizing this that myself and the other media guys were quick to jump onboard again this year.”
The silent auction will take place on Friday at Average Joes Sports Bar in Sherwood Park (390 Baseline Road) at 7 p.m. The ’12 hours of hockey’ tournament will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday at Argyll Arena (9933 63 Ave NW).
“I want to thank every player, volunteer and donor for your generosity,” Branco said. “Because of you, one step at a time, change will come. To the parents and family members of The Neurosurgery Kids Fund who have allowed me and my teammates into your families, we can't thank you enough. Our goal last year was to raise some money and bring awareness to a group of everyday people trying to make the lives of those affected by brain or spinal surgeries just a little bit easier. We succeeded… Thank you.”
Over $57,000 has already been raised for this year’s event, prior to the silent auction.
To buy a ticket to attend, contact Chris Branco at email@example.com.
Click here for more information.
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."