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."
LONDON, ON - The Oil Kings will be the home team for their Saturday game against Geulph (2:00 p.m. MT, Sportsnet) and Sunday against London (5:00 p.m. MT, Sportsnet). The most significant thing to come out of that is they will enjoy last change for both of those games.
However, despite that fact, Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal said that he likely won't do a lot of matching of forward lines.
"We have to elevate our game to the pace that Guelph is going to play," he said, adding that paying too much attention to matching lines up front would slow the game down for his side.
"We're very comfortable in the three lines that we have. When we made the change with Eddie Kulda and Reid Petryk, it actually balanced out three lines," said Laxdal, talking about moving Kulda to what has been a solid-performing line with Mitch Moroz and Henrik Samuelsson.
Laxdal noted that he will try and get favourable matchups for his blueliners but had no problem going to that third pairing when needed.
"With our back end I can honestly say I'm happy putting anyone out, including our sixth defenceman."
LONDON, ON - Oilers prospect Mitch Moroz was on the Oil Kings when they made the Memorial Cup in 2012 but the role he is playing this time around is much more substantial.
"Mitch was on the third or fourth line (in 2012), now he's in the top six and on the big line with Henrik Samuelsson and Eddie Kulda. He's a big forward. He's got to be physical at this Memorial Cup. He's got to go hard to the net and put pucks on the net," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal.
Citing a specific example, Laxdal pointed out where Moroz will be very important against a team like Guelph on Saturday.
"If you look at Guelph's penalty kill, they do a good job," he began. "Their penalty kill is very similar to Medicine Hat so the challenge for us is we've got to get pucks to the net and jump on loose pucks."
Moroz talked about getting a second shot at a Memorial Cup here in 2014.
"Last time everyone came in a little wide-eyed and I said it before that we weren't really sure what to expect. We definitely didn't take advantage of our opportunity and left with some regret," he said of the Oil Kings' fourth-place finish.
"You go through cycles as a junior player and you have to pay your dues a little bit. I found myself in a third and fourth line role the past couple years and this year I was given more opportunity. I'm excited to have a little more opportunity this time."
WATCH: Press Conference Highlights on Oilers TV | WATCH: Full Press Conference Raw
LONDON, ON - The four head coaches of the participating teams at the MasterCard Memorial Cup took part in a "meet the media" press conference this evening. London Knights head coach Dale Hunter, Guelph Storm head coach Scott Walker, Val d'Or Foreurs head coach Mario Derocher and Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal spoke with the media.
Hunter's Knights, the tournament host, finished fourth in the Ontario Hockey League's Western Conference with 103 points (49-14-1-4).
“It’s going to be a real great competition here and it’s going to be tough. That’s what it’s all about. It’s tough to win. I’m looking forward to it.”
|Left to Right: Scott Walker, Derek Laxdal, Mario Durocher and Dale Hunter
Hunter knows a lot about winning at this level. The Knights won the OHL title in 2004-05, 2011-12 and 2012-13. His squad won the Memorial Cup right here on home ice in 2005 but lost in the championship game in 2012. They also made it to the tournament last year.
Laxdal talked about the road the Oil Kings took this time around to get to their second Memorial Cup in three years.
“It was quite an anomaly playing Portland three years in a row. This year, going to Game 7 in Portland in a pretty incredible environment," the Oil Kings head coach began.
Edmonton saw a 5-2 third period lead slip away at home in Game 6 but managed to bounce back and win Game 7 on the road to take the championship -- the first WHL to ever accomplish the feat.
"For our kids to come back and win in seven games is outstanding and shows the resiliency of our hockey club."
Val d'Or also won Game 7 on the road, less than 24 hours earlier. It was a dramatic finish, with Anthony Mantha scoring with 52 seconds left to play to clinch the 4-3 win. The Foreurs had a 3-0 lead in the game but Baie Comeau tied it at 3-3 with less than two minutes to go.
"It was a big game yesterday, Game 7. It was the second Game 7, we did the same thing in Halifax on the road (in the previous round). Our team showed a lot of character," said coach Desrocher.
Scott Walker's Guelph Storm were tops in the OHL with 108 points and rode that to an impressive playoff which saw them win all four rounds by the same four-games-to-one count.
Walker was looking forward to the test against the CHL's best.
“It’ll be a test for all four of us, to get our teams prepared to play against three great hockey teams you don’t see often — other than us with London,” Walker stated. “It’s really exciting for me to see the calibre and mental toughness of all the teams.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings have come to expect the unexpected when it comes to their WHL final series against Portland. After dropping the first two games of the series, Edmonton battled back to take a 3-2 series lead heading into game six. They had two three-goal leads disappear and Portland came back to tie the series with a 6-5 overtime win.
“I think that’s a good motto for the series,” Head Coach Derek Laxdal said about expecting the unexpected. “Portland’s defencemen scored five goals last night. I thought we got a little bit careless in some of our d-zone coverage but at the end of the day that’s playoff hockey, that’s junior hockey. It’s a one-game shot for a championship and the best team will prevail tonight.”
The Oil Kings are prepared with the knowledge that they have to be ready for anything.
“Unpredictable,” Luke Bertolucci says of the series and game seven. “Going down 2-0 and then coming back and getting three straight and then their comeback last night, you don’t write that up. We don’t know what to expect tonight but we’re just going to give it our all.”