Edmonton Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal's team is desperate for a win (OHL Images)SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The Edmonton Oil Kings knew coming to this tournament that they'd be competing against 60 tough players from Shawinigan, Saint John and London.
Little did coach Derek Laxdal know that his team would also be playing against the 20 from his own team.
Game 7 of the WHL final was one of the more flawless games a junior hockey team has played. The Oil Kings did not just shut down the Portland Winterhawks attack, they dismantled them, controlling the puck from the start of the game to the finish, holding their own against a team that was equal in talent.
Laxdal would be the first to tell you, too, that the team has not replicated their effort from that game into the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Far from it, in fact. The team won 4-3 in the opening game of the tournament, but dropped 5-2 and 4-1 decisions in back-to-back days against Saint John and London. In his post-game press conference after the second of those defeats Tuesday against the Knights that cost the team a spot in at least the semifinal, Laxdal tore into his group:
"There's a difference between a team frustrating you and your own team frustrating you," said Laxdal. "If you're unwilling to play the system or the structure that's in place, it's going to be a frustrating night — not only fighting the other team, but you're fighting yourself — and I thought we did that a lot tonight. We were just unwilling to fall into the game plan we prepared for London and you saw the result tonight."
Laxdal was then asked if the team is the same team that won the WHL title:
"No we're not even close. I think our kids are in awe just kind of looking around. But you know what we've got another game to stay alive. We've got to bring our best game on Thursday night [in the tiebreaker against the Shawinigan-Saint John loser] and from my understanding there's two teams that have gone through the playoff round and made it to the final, so our goal is going to win on Thursday night and make it to the semifinal. We've got to do a better job of showing who we are and representing the Western Hockey League."
"We can't play with one line. Curtis Lazar, Henrik Samuelsson and Stephane Legault have been outstanding and we need our other nine forwards to step-up and join the parade."
Edmonton Oil Kings' Michael St. Croix is goalless in the Memorial Cup (The Canadian P …Michael St. Croix, who led the team with 45 goals in the regular season, has been held to a single assist in the tournament. Overage centre Tyler Maxwell doesn't have a single point. Kristians Pelss has been invisible in second and third periods and was effectively shut down against London. In net, Laurent Brossoit has looked shaky after being the MVP of the WHL playoffs, putting up an .892 save percentage in the tournament in contrast to .933 in the league playoffs.
From a numerical perspective, the team has been on the wrong end in scoring chances in each of the three games they've played. They were outchanced 22-18 by Shawinigan in the game they won, 16-12 by Saint John and 16-10 by London. In total, that's a 54-40 advantage for their opponents, but it's the lack of fight that has Laxdal concerned.
"You know we're not playing a consistent 60 minutes right now and it just seems like when we're battling teams it's like there's a bit of battling amongst the individuals in our group. I'm telling you that as a group of individuals and playing a team game. We've just got to do a better job of stay at the task and focus at hand. Just play the game. Play the game with passion. We're just kind of waiting for someone else to step up and do it. And that's not going to work in a short-term competition. It's not a best-of-seven series where you get the next night to come back."
Part of the Kings' problems have stemmed from a failure to adjust coming out after periods. The teams' second periods have been the worst, with the team recording just seven of its 40 chances in the middle frame. Whether that's on the coach not getting his players' ready for post-first period adjustments or on something minute like a long change or worsening ice conditions, Laxdal said "it's hard to say."
Whether it's Saint John or Shawinigan, it's set in stone for the Oil Kings. They will need to defeat all three teams in the tournament in consecutive games to win junior hockey's ultimate prize.