Mem Cup a new challenge for Oil Kings
ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI AGENCY
The Edmonton Oil Kings have a Western Hockey League championship trophy to show for four victorious campaigns against the devils they knew — now they’re face to face with the devils they don’t.
Back in the Memorial Cup for the first time in modern franchise history, the Oil Kings will have no time to follow one of the most important rules in Sun Tzu’s Art of War: know thine enemy.
Unlike conference rivals Moose Jaw, Brandon and Kootenay, or Portland — who they know as well as they knew themselves after an electrifying seven-game final series — the Oil Kings opponents will be total strangers when the puck drops Friday in Shawinigan.
The scouting reports will be basic: 1. The other teams are really good. 2. They want to crush your dreams.
“We don’t know a whole lot about the other teams, other than Saint John won it last year, London is always a good hockey team and Shawinigan must have a pretty good framework if they’re hosting a Memorial Cup,” said defenceman Keegan Lowe, as the Kings held one last practice before Wednesday’s charter flight to Quebec.
“They’re all going to be good teams, but we all play in different leagues, so whether we’re the underdog or the favourites, I couldn’t answer that. There’s no way of telling until we play the games.”
If the Oil Kings are wondering about Shawinigan, London and Saint John, rest assured they are all wondering about an Edmonton team that won 22 games in a row and stared down the powerhouse Winterhawks.
“You have to have a little (swagger), but you can’t have too much,” said netminder Laurent Brossoit. “We know how good we are, but we know how good they are, too.”
All head coach Derek Laxdal knows for certain right now is that everybody in the tournament is dangerous.
“Anybody who comes out of their league is the best of the best,” he said. “So you have to be prepared for that.”
The tournament format will also be a major adjustment. Unlike the WHL playoffs, when best-of-seven series determine a winner, the Mem Cup is a one-shot deal — single-game round robin and single-game elimination playoffs. One false move at the wrong time, one bad period, even, and the tournament can get away from you for good.
“Now you’re going from a marathon situation into a short-term event, almost like the World Junior Championship,” said Laxdal. “We have to revamp our mentality going into practice. It becomes a one-game series. You have to be at your best every game, every period, every shift.”
It’ll help some that the Oil Kings are just coming off a one-game, winner-take-all game with Portland. Game 7 of the WHL final will be a lot like Game 1 against Shawinigan.
“We went from a seven-game series to a five-game series to a three game series to a one-game knock off,” said Laxdall, who believes the battle with Portland helped temper Edmonton’s nerve. “That will definitely help us prepare for Game 1.”
The format isn’t as conducive to determining the best team as a seven-game series is, but it does crown a team that’s able to play its best when it counts.
And that’s good enough for Laxdal.
“It’s the Memorial Cup,” he said. “You have to play your best hockey if you want to win.”
How these four teams respond, when all the money is on the table, remains to be seen.
“We had seven games to prove ourselves against each of the teams we faced in the playoffs. Now it’s only one,” said captain Mark Pysyk. “We need to come with the Game 7 mentality every night. Every game is do or die for us.
“We have to go out and play the best two weeks of hockey we’ve ever played.”
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