Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Game Seven: The Bounce Back

It almost seemed fitting that Game Seven of the Western Hockey League Final between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks would be decided at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. After all, it was the very building the original Oil Kings called home after relocating to Portland, Oregon following the 1975-76 WHL season. 

After watching these two Canadian Hockey League powerhouses battle it out in back-to-back-to-back Championship Series, the grudge match came down to a one game showdown and at the end of the night...it was no contest. 

On the heels of blowing a pair of three goal leads on home ice in Game Six, Edmonton came out and delivered their finest performance of the year, upsetting the Winterhawks by a score of 4-2 to punch their ticket to the 2014 Memorial Cup and earn their second Ed Chynoweth Cup in last three years. 

While Portland jumped out to another early lead, as Oliver Bjorkstrand potted his first of the series at the 4:42 mark of period one, the Eastern Conference champs were by far and away the superior side over the final fifty minutes of play. 

After having what looked to be a game-tying power play goal from Curtis Lazar waved off midway through the frame, the visitors proceeded to explode for not one, not two or even three but four second period goals to take a stranglehold in the winner take all finale. 

When it mattered most, it was the Oil Kings vets who stepped up and delivered at crunch time. Mitch Moroz would get them back on level terms with his second of the series early in period two, which was promptly followed by a short-handed beauty from Lazar and just like that…Edmonton had all the momentum on their side. 

Reid Petryk would make it 3-1 all of forty seconds later to make it three goals in a span of 5:52 and the Winterhawks nor their fans knew what had hit them. They would extend the lead even further before the period was out as Mads Eller, who was fantastic from start to finish, made the most of yet another odd man rush to make it 4-1 and put the Oil Kings in the driver’s seat heading into the intermission. 

Can you say déjà vu? While they may have been staring at the exact same situation they had coughed up roughly twenty-four hours earlier, there would be no such collapse on this night. The moment may have been too much for Derek Laxdal’s crew to handle in their own on barn, it wasn’t an issue whatsoever in Game #7. 

Outside of a late power play marker from Brendan Leipsic, with their goalie on the bench for an extra attacker, Edmonton had it in shutdown mode over the final twenty. It was as determined an effort as this group had put together during the post-season and it could not have come at a more fitting moment. Bouncing back in the manner they did, after enduring what was arguably the most staggering choke job the Western Hockey League had seen in some time, was nothing short amazing. 

Captain Griffin Reinhart was given the honour of not only hoisting the Chynoweth Cup but also being selected as MVP of the playoffs, in what was a coming out party of sorts for the former fourth overall pick. While he may not be as flashy as his Winterhawk counterparts, in Mathew Dumba and Derrick Pouliot, the New York Islanders prospect was the best player for either team over the seven game set and was a more than worthy selection. 

In the end, the team that deserved to take home the title of Western Hockey League Champions was the Edmonton Oil Kings, as they became the first franchise in league history to win a Game Seven on the road. As I suggested in this very spot in yesterday’s piece, it wasn’t going to be easy but to a man, these kids went out and did it. 

Kudos to them for pulling off the upset and including the memory of former teammate Kristians Pelss, who passed away suddenly roughly eleven months earlier. It was clearly a touching moment for the coaches and players and one that made this victory even sweeter. That said, time to rest up boys…you have some unfinished business to take care of in London and by the way…well done. 

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