5/14/2012 10:11:00 AM
I have a small confession to make. Watching Game 6 of the WHL Championship series on Saturday night, I was rooting for Portland. Between hosting my show every weeknight and being gone on vacation for a few weeks, I hadn't been able to take in an Oil Kings playoff game this year and I wanted to be able to attend Game 7 on Sunday. Indeed, Portland won on Saturday night, and last night I sat as a fan in the lower bowl at Rexall Place for a hockey game for the first time since June of 2006.
There's nothing better in sports than a win-or-go-home game and last night was even more amped because the win would also come with an entry into the Memorial Cup for a chance at CHL supremacy. Honestly though, the game itself turned out to be pretty dull. There's not much thrill in a total laugher, which was exactly what it was from the start of the game as the Oil Kings dummied the Winterhawks. The Oil Kings scored 4 and could have easily had more as they owned virtually every dangerous scoring chance during the 60 minutes. And, of course, MVP goaltender Laurent Brossoit was there to shut the door on any of the chances that Portland did stumble upon. Come to think of it, Portland would probably be justified in feeling that the series would have gone the other way had the teams switched goaltenders. I didn't think much of Mac Carruth in the series.
One final thought on Portland before I move on to our boys: Brad Ross is a punk. A 2010 draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he'll fit right in on a team managed by Brian Burke and captained by Dion Phaneuf. A fine player with a nice mix of skill and toughness, Ross is also a meathead. He represented an otherwise extremely classy Winterhawks organization by instigating a fight in the final moments of last night's game and continuing to punch Oil Kings forward TJ Foster once Foster had been knocked to the ice and the linesemen had stepped in. And, for those that didn't see it, I don't mean a couple punches. I mean 30 seconds of not being able to get this maniac off of Foster. Oh well. Foster clearly got the last laugh on this one, given that he did a lap with the WHL Championship Trophy while Ross was back in the dressing room slipping on his velcro dress shoes to go home.
On to the winning squad. First, I can't tell you how happy I am for the guys running the operation. The management team of Bob Green and Randy Hansch did a tremendous job building this team from Day 1. They won the WHL title this year and will be the absolute favourites to repeat next season, even losing a key piece like Mark Pysyk. The 2nd year coaching staff of Derek Laxdal and Steve Hamilton were a rational and calm change of pace from the previous regime of Steve Pleau, and the kids rave about playing for these men. And, even on down to the ticket guys behind the scenes that have worked their tails off to get people into the building to cheer these kids on, a ton of people have put in a lot of very hard work since the franchise came back in 2007-2008.
On the roster side, the depth of the team was just incredible throughout the season and the playoffs. Starting in goal, Laurent Brossoit was obviously the man who anchored everything, but he did get a lot of help. Their defense was one of the deepest in all of Junior hockey, led in particular by Mark Pysyk, Keegan Lowe, Griffin Reinhart and Martin Gernat. Oh, and for Reinhart, what a chance he's got now in the Memorial Cup to boost his draft position on the national stage with a big performance. At forward, Michael St. Croix had a 100 point regular season and young Curtis Lazar was money in the playoffs, but so many other names took turns at the forefront. Stephane Legault, Jordan Peddle, Rhett Rachinski, Henrik Samuelsson, Tyler Maxwell and on and on and on. Assistant coach Steve Hamilton told me once that the approach of their coaching staff was to sell every player on being responsible for 5%. 20 guys a night, each representing 5%, and they'd get there. It worked, and they did.
It was cool to see a trophy presentation and celebration on the ice at Rexall Place, and this victory should be widely celebrated by hockey fans in Edmonton. For the Oil Kings right now, though, the job isn't done. They move on to Shawinigan this week to battle the hosts, plus the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs and the London Knights for the CHL title. I don't know much about the host squad, but Saint John and London are tremendous groups and will make the Oil Kings an underdog in this tournament. But, what the hell? Edmonton won 50 in the regular season and then went 16-4 in the playoffs. They don't have any glaring weaknesses and they have all kinds of swagger. Go get 'em, men.