Could this WHL season have ended any other way?
Just six years into their existence, the Edmonton Oil Kings have the chance to be the first WHL team since Kamloops in 1994 and '95 to win back-to-back league titles. Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks just want to avoid coming up short in the final for the third straight season.
If last year was "A New Hope" for the fledgling Oil Kings franchise, the Hawks certainly hope the sequel becomes "The Empire Strikes Back."
Portland has increasingly embraced the "Evil Empire" moniker as the season has progressed, even posting a picture on its Facebook page identifying rows of white-clad Imperial stormtroopers as Hawks fans waiting in line for tickets. To wit, Portland's players are calling for a "whiteout" at the Rose Garden for tonight's Game 1.
The "us against the world" mentality can be powerful in sports, especially when the players are teenagers, and the Winterhawks are using the negative energy they're receiving from around the league as the last bit of motivation to finally reach the top of the WHL mountain for the first time in 15 years.
The Oil Kings, on the other hand, were always supposed to be back, in a sense. That they got here is no less of an accomplishment, though, especially considering the seven-game push they got from their Alberta rivals, the Calgary Hitmen.
For Edmonton, the allure of a second straight trip to a Memorial Cup, and a chance for a mulligan on last year's fourth-place finish, should be enough motivation to maintain focus on the task at hand.
But will the Oil Kings be desperate enough to match a Hawks team and fanbase that's fed up with losing league titles? Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal is trying to keep the emotions of last year's seven-game epic running high by calling tonight's series opener "Game 8." If his team responds, this could well be another classic that goes down to the very end.
After the jump, BTN's Scott Sepich and Neate Sager take a look at the final.Read More »from Winterhawks “empire” hopes to strike back against Oil Kings in series sequel: WHL final preview