SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The Edmonton Oil Kings handled the heat, figuratively in terms of the pushback from the Shawinigan Cataractes and literally in terms of the building temperature, winning 4-3 on Day 1 of the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Edmonton ran on something far less than eight cylinders — coach Derek Laxdal, post-game: "It wasn't our best hockey and it wasn't our best game" — but scored three times in the final frame. They also overcame late Shawinigan pressure, abated by a charging penalty on captain Mark Pysyk. The Cataractes, meantime, were irate about an apparent missed high stick where forward Peter Sakaris was bloodied seconds prior to Griffin Reinhart scoring a go-ahead third-period goal. (Defenceman Morgan Ellis, via Sportsnet: "You get a cross-check in the face that doesn't get called, you just go on with the play and do what you can.")
Shawinigan (0-1) faces the London Knights on Sunday, getting the Ontario rep in the second leg of back-to-back games. The Oil Kings (1-0) get a two-day break before facing Saint John on Monday in the likely feature game of the round-robin. On with the post-game questions!
Why was Edmonton dissatisfied by their performance? Perhaps it was the sound from thousands of fingers across Canada clicking TV remotes during the second period.
The opening frame was back-and-forth. The second was unwatchable with Cam Charron rating the scoring chances at 5-1 for Shawinigan. (Overall, the Cataractes had a 22-18 edge for the night.) The Oil Kings were perhaps lucky to get out of that period tied at 1-1, with Stephane Legault throwing himself in front of two shots during the final 15 seconds amid sustained Cataractes pressure.
"We didn't really turn it on until the third, we were trying to find our stride but our legs weren't really going," Oil Kings captain Mark Pysyk said. "I don't what was the cause of that. The urgency level changed in the third. Whenever our team plays with urgency, we seem to be able to pick it up but we need more of it."
"They dictated the play through the second period and we can't let teams do that."
What positives do the Cataractes take with them as they ready for a nearly must-win game vs. London on Sunday night? Shawinigan was physical and erased a two-goal third-period deficit against the Oil Kings, who lost only one game where they led after two periods during the entire Western league season. (This game was even after 40 minutes, but given that Griffin Reinhart's go-ahead goal came just 1:01 into the third, that sat fits.)
"We can take some positives out of this game," said Shawinigan centre Michael Chaput, who had two goals and one assist. "It's three great teams here, but we feel we have a good team. We were controlling the puck very well throughout much of the game but we could have been more opportunistic. Guys were getting to the paint [the crease], but the pucks weren't going in. We're going to put it behind us and just focus on the next game."
Was this an instance where Edmonton had to weather the storm early? Definitely.
"They were in front of their home crowd, they haven't played in while, they've been beating up on each other for a while," Pysyk said. "We've had some breaks during the playoffs so we know what it's like to only be practising against each other. They came back hard."
How hard did Éric Veilleux have to bite his tongue when asked about giving up Samuelsson's winner on the shift after Chaput tied the game? Put it this way: he didn't exactly tip his cap to Edmonton for having to work hard for that goal.
"Maybe communication had something to do with that play," Veilleux said. "The play happened close to the bench, I'm not too sure. I don't think their D-men pinched too much or were very physical along the walls. It's just a matter of doing the little things, the little details."
Pysyk was in the penalty box for roughing when Shawinigan potted its first goal. What did Laxdal think of the extracurricular activity? The Edmonton bench boss would have preferred his team turned the other cheek.
"We were active? I think both teams were active," he said when asked about the heavy stickwork. "Yeah, I'd like to see more discipline. We're not the type of team that likes to take it to the trenches. We're the type of the team that likes to keep the flow and slow it down after the whistles. We want to keep the pace. We addressed the team after that, but the kids were just showing their energy."
The Oil Kings were 0-for-2 on the power play. Shawinigan was 1-for-3. Laxdal later said that didn't extend to when draft-year forward Mitchell Moroz fought Colarado Avalanche-drafted Cataractes defenceman Dillon Donnelly in the second period.
"[Moroz] is trying to get a spark for our hockey club. That's part of his job and that's what's going to get him drafted. He's improved a lot. They've both challenged each other. It was a fair fight."
How much will the two-day break help Edmonton? Immensely. Along with doing video work on an unfamiliar opponent, the Memorial Cup also means taking a game to read the ice. When reporters can joke about covering games in flip-flops, well, the ice is what it is.
"We've got a couple days off before we play Monday so it gives us a chance to recuperate," said Laxdal, whose team will not practise Saturday. "It was very hot on the ice and hot in our dressing room but it's a big win for us. It wasn't our best hockey and it wasn't our best game.
"It wasn't conducive to our hockey team," Laxdal added. "It's something we have to face, we have to address. Both teams have to play on that sheet of ice."
Why did Laxdal come back with Keegan Lowe after his cough-up gifted Shawinigan with a third-period tying goal? The Carolina Hurricanes draft pick failed to get the puck up ice, leading to Chaput's leveller with 6:41 remaining. Lowe's mental mistake boiled down to not adapting to the conditions by making a simpler play.
"It's a sign of bad ice right there," Laxdal said. "He's trying to skate the puck up and it kind of sticks to the ice and flips up. You got to give our guys credit. They bounced back and got the lead back and protected it, especially when they had to kill off the late penalty."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.