LONDON, ONT. - Save the best for last, because that’s what people remember.
That’s just what the Edmonton Oil Kings did, saving the 2014 Memorial Cup in London from mediocrity with two gutsy, emotional and well-earned wins.
On the heels of a triple-overtime thriller against the Val d’Or Foreurs, the Western Hockey League champions stunned the Guelph Storm 6-3 Sunday at the Gardens to win the 2014 Memorial Cup championship.
The Oil Kings were supposed to be buried deeper than an Alberta oil rig drill, after they lost their first two games against Portland in the WHL final.
The Oil Kings and their fans saw their team survive that situation, but most everyone else believed they had blown their chance at the title when they had to go to triple overtime Friday.
Toss in the general feeling that the Storm were simply the better, more talented team and it didn’t look good.
They may have had more individual talent, but on Sunday the Storm weren’t the better team.
That moniker belonged to the Oil Kings.
Deadmonton became the City of Champions yet again.
Down early, down again later in the game, the Oil Kings never stopped. They played like a team that believed.
They would not fall back on excuses.
Thanks for that.
A surprising last game was something this tournament deserved. Organizers and television would have settled for a good game. What they got was a stunning result.
London fans stuck with this tournament. The average was more than 8,800 a game, even when the games didn’t mean anything to London.
One can’t be myopic in judging a tournament based solely on who participated.
The London Knights crashed out of the event in historic fashion as only the second host club in Memorial Cup history to be eliminated without winning a game. If the sole benchmark for the success of failure of a tournament rested on whether the local team made it to the final or not, then the question is not about whether the tournament had value but more on the efficacy of London as a cultured sports town.
From the moment the Knights were granted the 2014 Memorial Cup, the plan had always been for them to be around until the end. The nightmare scenario played out when the Knights were the first team eliminated from the tournament.
It was a bonus that Guelph managed to make the final. About 80 minutes from London, Storm fans were able to gobble up tickets at a bargain price for the final. The packed house for the final had great atmosphere.
London fans deserve credit for sucking up their disappointment over their ruined party. The semifinal game on a Friday night between the Oil Kings and Val d’Or Foreurs could have been disastrous. Londoners who purchased tickets on the off chance they would have to use it to see the Knights could have easily decided to eat the cost of the ticket.
Instead they came out and almost filled the joint. In return, the Oil Kings and Foreurs gave them a triple overtime game, perhaps the best game of the tournament.
But the Knights premature ejection from the tournament also caused concern about beer sales and attendance for entertainment events surrounding the tournament.
From the moment the Knights were eliminated tournament organizers went to work ensuring events were well attended using a variety of marketing ploys including free and discounted tickets.
As a result what might have been a dead Saturday night turned into a busy night with the concert and beer tent well attended.
This 2014 event wasn’t like 2005 when the Memorial Cup tournament was about as perfect from a London standpoint as anyone could have hoped for.
But it proved again its value to the city. The city didn’t run much of a risk. It didn’t have to spend millions as it did for the World Figure Skating Championship.
The city dumped all the responsibility for the finances and tournament on the organizing committee and Mark and Dale Hunter, the owners of the Knights.
They accepted and took the risk.
So the tournament wasn’t a sensational, goose bump-raising, thrill-a-minute. The hockey could have been better and from an interest point of view, the Knights could have survived a little longer to goose up the excitement.
But considering the what-ifs and could-have-beens, it went pretty damn well.