Resilience pays off for Oil Kings

Edmonton Oil Kings Henrik Samuelsson (10) falls on top of Shawinigan Cataractes Loďk Poudrier (72)...

Edmonton Oil Kings Henrik Samuelsson (10) falls on top of Shawinigan Cataractes Loďk Poudrier (72) during third period action and game opener of the Memorial Cup at the Boinest Center in Shawinigan, Friday May 18, 2012. (DIDIER DEBUSSCHERE/QMI Agency)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:06 PM ET

SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - You wouldn’t think a team not far removed from a 22-game winning streak, having wrapped up its first three best-of-seven WHL playoff series in 13 games, would have the faintest clue about fighting through with adversity.

It would be like expecting Donald Trump to survive on food stamps and trips to the bottle depot.

But there were the Edmonton Oil Kings, thrust into some rather stormy and unfamiliar territory Friday night, showing a titanium spine in the face of hostility, chaos and potential disaster.

“We know how to respond,” centre Henrik Samuelsson said of an opening-night Memorial Cup victory that had more mood swings than Mel Gibson and John Tortorella combined.

“We just battled through the hard parts of the game, that’s all you can do. It’s a good feeling. We knew we needed to win that one.”

The Oil Kings had a laundry list of issues to deal with Friday, starting with the Shawinigan Cataractes, all juiced up on crowd noise and adrenaline, and ending with a third period lead that got blown up by a botched video review and a blunder that would have made Steve Smith cringe.

But the Oil Kings didn’t break. Didn’t even need to call a time out.

Instead, with the roof still shaking after fate had stolen their game, they needed all of 29 seconds to make things right again.

“We’re a very resilient hockey club,” head coach Derek Laxdal said. “I thought we were very calm on the bench.

“It wasn’t a pretty game. It was probably a little bit of nerves, the ice conditions, the heat, everything kind of played into that. But you have to give our kids credit for being resilient and establishing a lead in the third period and closing it out when they battled out to make it 3-3.

“The guys did what they had to do to win. They battled through.”

How does a team that outscored its opponents 52-17 in posting 12 wins (and just one loss) through the first three rounds of the WHL playoffs develop skin as thick as a chain-smoking gator?

Simple: Round 4.

They are still talking about that seven-game showdown with the Portland Winterhawks, a series in which they fell behind 2-1 and blew a couple of third period leads, as if its the best thing that happened to them all year.

“That was a huge learning experience for us,” goalie Laurent Brossoit said. “Their fans really gave them a lot of momentum, we had a couple leads and they came back relentlessly. We did a good job in that series, learned how to weather their storm and that definitely helped us here.”

“Whenever our teams plays with a little bit of urgency, if we’re down a goal or it’s a close game, we pick it up,” captain Mark Pysyk added. “That’s good, but we need to be able to find that urgency for a full 60 minutes.”

Yes. The goal now is to try and avoid those situations where the world is crashing down around them. It won’t be easy given that the competition only gets tougher from here on in with the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs and OHL champion London Knights up next, but the Oil Kings promise they have plenty more to give.

They’re 1-0, they say, despite playing one of their worst games in weeks.

“We were a little nervous in the first two periods and we were maybe a little tired after a seven-game series and (cross-country) flight,” Edmonton Oilers draft pick Kristians Pelss said. “Now we’re getting some rest and I think we have a lot more confidence.”

Being able to fight through adversity is great, but making the other guys have to do it is even better.

“We did what we had to do, we got the win, and the first win of the tournament is key,” Laxdal said. “But we’re a much better hockey club than we showed.”

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robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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