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.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings watched two three-goal leads slip away in game six last night and with those, their chance at closing out the series on home ice. Winterhawks proved resilient and came back to beat Edmonton 6-5 in overtime to force a game seven in Portland tonight.
The Oil Kings’ attitude going into tonight’s game is much more jovial than it was last night following the loss.
“Pumped,” Cody Corbett said of the team’s mood going into tonight’s game. “All of the guys in the room are so excited. Whatever happened last night, that’s last night. Today is today, the sun came up this morning and you know we’re a good hockey club and we’re going to find a way to bounce back tonight.”
“Game seven is the biggest thing in all of hockey,” said Edgars Kulda, who had two goals in game six. “It’s the most important game in our season right now and of course everyone is excited, everyone is getting ready and we’ll come out strong today.”
Head coach Derek Laxdal has not had to do much to get them to forget last night’s game and focus solely on tonight.
“They’re pretty good,” he said. “They’re teenage kids. I think the coaching staff has a harder time of letting it go but the kids… they dwelled on it for a little bit last night then we got on the bus after the plane and you could see them start to loosen up a little bit. They know what their focus is, they have an understanding and they know that they weren’t at their best last night. They had a great period and a half and didn’t have a great second and third period. At the end of the day, we’ve got to be ready to go tonight with a one-game shot.”
Kulda adds, “What happened, happened. You can’t change what happened last game. We just need to come out and play our game seven as the most important game.”
Luke Bertolucci said, “It’s a new day, the sun came up. That’s something the coach emphasized. We have to start fresh today and forget about the last six games and tonight is our night.”
The Oil Kings are hoping the fans come out in waves for game six tomorrow night against the Portland Winterhawks. Edmonton has a chance to close out the series and take home their second Ed Chynoweth Cup.
“I think it’s exciting,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “Anytime a championship series comes to a city or a town I think it’s important for the city to jump on board and support the program. That being said, it’s three years in a row now where we’ve had great fan support and we’ve had great fan support on short notices. I hope everybody brings their mothers out for mother’s day to watch the game tomorrow night.”
The Oil Kings said as of 1 p.m. Saturday that they had sold over 8,000 tickets.
The Edmonton Oil Kings host the Portland Winterhawks with the opportunity to close out the WHL final with a win on home ice. The prospects of winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup at home on Sunday afternoon would normally have teams pressing and making mistakes. However, the Oil Kings have the core leadership group that can keep the team in check in a huge game.
“These kids know exactly what they’re playing for,” head coach Derek Laxdal said. “You really don’t want to touch on it because they know exactly what’s going on and they can only go two ways. They can play a great game and get a win or we’re going back (to Portland) for game seven. That’s just the way it is. But I think our kids have faced enough adversity in this series where they know exactly what the prize at the end of the line is. They’re well prepared, they were energized (Saturday) on the bus, they’re focused and I know they’re excited to play in front of a big crowd here tomorrow night.”
“I just think the character in our dressing room will do that,” Henrik Samuelsson added. “We have a lot of character guys in our room that have been here and even guys that haven’t been here that know what it takes to win and I think we’ll be fine that way.”
One of those leaders is, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, Griffin Reinhart.
“His leadership and his play on the ice is outstanding,” Laxdal said. “Just his shutdown presence, he scored a big goal for us last night and he had a big play, a big turnover on Samuelsson’s goal. He’s been a big part offensively and defensively for our hockey club. We actually moved him up onto the first unit of our power play just because of his experience and his poise. He’s really come into his own here. I know he’s excited to play in the championship final here and he’s obviously doing a great job of leading this group of players.”
Even with all that leadership some of the players may find themselves gripping their sticks a little tighter and playing tired after a restless night sleep.
“I struggled to get some sleep last night,” Curtis Lazar said. “Maybe I am fighting a cold. But I think just the butterflies for getting on the ice tomorrow is also part of it.”
Through the opening rounds of the WHL playoffs and through battling back from down two games early in the championship series to take the 3-2 lead, the Edmonton Oil Kings have inched closer to their goal of taking back the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Oil Kings have grown as a team and as individuals throughout the process.
“When you go through the first three rounds you see the growth of your team but when you get into that championship series and you get into it going into game six, you really see the growth of some of your leadership guys on your team and then you see some growth of some of the younger kids you have coming through,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about the experience of these kids going as far as they can in the playoffs and learning and experiencing through part of the challenges.”