Oil Kings shock heavily-favoured Storm to win Memorial Cup
Edmonton Oil Kings forward Henrik Samuelsson celebrates a la Popeye after scoring his team's fifth goal during the Memorial Cup final in London, Ont. on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The Oil King's defeated the Guelph Storm 6-3. (Derek Ruttan/QMI Agency)
Last fall, Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller damaged a lot of Edmonton’s pride by calling the Oilers “a junior team.”
After seeing how younger brother Mads and his Oil Kings mates performed at the Memorial Cup, those words now ring loud as rather high praise.
“I had to hear about (his brother’s comment) for a little bit, but yeah, you could look at it as compliment,” Mads Eller said with a wide grin after Edmonton’s shocking 6-3 victory over the OHL powerhouse Guelph in the 96th Cup final before a pro-Storm crowd of 8,863 Sunday night at Budweiser Gardens.
“It’s been an amazing season for us,” he said.
Tournament scoring leader Henrik Samuelsson, grasping late Latvian ex-teammate Kristians Pelss’s No. 26 sweater in the post-game celebration, scored twice in the final, including a third-period back-breaker to restore an insurmountable two-goal lead.
“We’ve been shocking people all year,” said Samuelsson, the 20-year-old son of ex-NHLer Ulf. “We weren’t supposed to get past Portland (in the Western league final). We weren’t supposed to make it far (in London).
“But we know how to win tight games and that’s exactly why we’re here today.”
The Oil Kings played with heavy hearts and dedicated their campaign to Pelss, the 20-year-old Oilers prospect who drowned last summer in his native land. His countryman, Edgars Kulda, was named tournament MVP.
“It’s a long season and we had a guardian angel,” said veteran forward Mitch Moroz, who scored the game winner. “He (Pelss) helped us get here.”
Edmonton won its seven-year-old franchise’s first Canadian Hockey League crown and the city’s first since a previous incarnation with the same name did it in 1966. They achieved it by holding the CHL’s highest-scoring team to a Cup-low three goals.
That was after Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart and Co. kept Val d’Or goal machine and major junior player of the year, Anthony Mantha, goal-less for nearly 184 minutes in back-to-back games.
“Everyone in the locker room believed we could beat these guys,” Mads Eller said. “Playing defence, that’s been our game the whole season. We’ve been stopping high-octane offences with a lot of speed all year and we approached Guelph a little bit like Portand.
“We just shut 'em down.”
Guelph, who sliced through the round-robin portion with three straight lopsided wins, scored a razzle-dazzle goal in the opening minute. They led after the first period.
But the Oil Kings dominated the second with three straight goals – all high shots on goaltender Justin Nichols.
The Storm, who opened the Cup with a 5-2 win over Edmonton, never recovered.
“They outwilled us,” Guelph head coach Scott Walker said. “I don’t think we played our best but I’m not going to take away from (Edmonton).
“They were the better team.”
Edmonton’s win capped a sensational run of three consecutive 50-win seasons, three straight trips to the league final (all against Portland), two Cup appearances and one Memorial Cup crown. They’re the first WHL team to win it all since the Spokane Chiefs broke the trophy down the road at Kitchener in 2008.
The Oil Kings played the final less than 48 hours after beating the Val d’Or Foreurs in the longest game in Cup history, a triple-overtime semifinal thriller won on a tip-in by Curtis Lazar. Guelph, who took the immediate path to the championship tilt, had three days off to prepare.
“It’s the Memorial Cup final – not a chance you’re not going to have energy for that,” Samuelsson said. “We dug deep and grinded this one out.
“We have a long summer to rest now.”
The Storm failed to win its city’s first title since Jacques Martin’s old Platers in 1986. The enduring image will be mid-season star acquisition and ex-Windsor captain Kerby Rychel, struggling to contain his emotions on the losing bench late in the third.
“In this tournament, one game can crush a team,” Storm forward Brock McGinn said. “We had a great year and it was one game. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out winners.”
They were beaten by a heck of a junior team who played like pros.
MVP CHOICE FITTING
The Edmonton Oil Kings played all year for the memory of Latvian friend Kristians Pelss. In a perfect bit of symmetry, his countryman Edgars Kulda earned Memorial Cup MVP. “We were always talking about him (Pelss),” said Kulda, the 19-year-old from Riga who scored four goals and seven points, three of those in the 6-3 championship victory. “It was hard last summer (after the news of the 20-year-old Pelss’ drowning). It was awful. We were playing for him, he was watching us and I’m sure he’s happy.”
MEMORIAL CUP AWARDS
Stafford Smythe Trophy (MVP)
Edgars Kulda, Edmonton
Hap Emms Trophy (Outstanding Goalie)
George Parsons Trophy (Sportsmanship)
Curtis Lazar, Edmonton
Ed Chynoweth Trophy (Leading Scorer)
Henrik Samuelsson, Edmonton
Goalie: Antoine Bibeau, Val d'Or
Defence: Cody Corbett, Edmonton; Matt Finn, Guelph
Forwards: Edgars Kulda, Edmonton, Kerby Rychel, Guelph, Henrik Samuelsson, Edmonton