Players working overtime say they have plenty left in the tank
Oil Kings coaches shorten bench to give more experienced players extra shifts
By CHRIS O'LEARY, edmontonjournal.com
May 9, 2012
Oil Kings defenseman #8 Griffin Reinhart tries to slow Winterhawks left wing #11 Oliver Gabriel as he drives to the net in game 3 of the Western Hockey League Championship playoffs in Portland.
Photograph by: Doug Beghtel, The Oregonian , edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - Mark Pysyk’s take on all of the ice time he’s logging says it all.
“We’re running on adrenalin,” the Edmonton Oil Kings captain said on Wednesday, fresh off of a dramatic 4-3 Game 4 overtime win over the Portland Winterhawks on Tuesday night. Portland and Edmonton are deadlocked 2-2 the Western Hockey League championship series.
“I think we’re young enough that we can play as much as Hammy (assistant coach Steve Hamilton) needs us to. If we’re a little bit tired, you just have to remember what we’re playing for, then you sort of forget about it pretty quick.”
Spoken like a true 20-year-old, who doesn’t have to worry about aching joints and sore muscles after over-exertion.
Game 2 and 3 losses to Portland saw the Oil Kings’ young defence exploited on turnovers.
Head coach Derek Laxdal and Hamilton decided to shorten the bench, loading up the more experienced defensive pairings of Pysyk and Keegan Lowe and Martin Gernat and Griffin Reinhart with extra shifts.
Laxdal has done the same with his forwards, dropping down from four lines to three. It worked out in Game 4, as the Oil Kings built up a 3-1 second-period lead and held on to win in overtime.
Laxdal said it was a move that his team agreed with.
“We talked to some of our high-end players (on Tuesday),” the coach said. “We’ve been rolling four lines pretty hard, but they want the ice time. They want to be able to go out there and log that ice time, so we did that (Tuesday) night.
“We rolled three lines and the kids responded.”
Of course, there’s a risk that comes with a shortened bench, in having fatigued players late in games. Portland forward and Calgary Flames prospect Sven Baertschi almost single-handedly led his team back into the game in the third period and forced overtime.
Edmonton winger Rhett Rachinski pulled Edmonton through with his game-winner, nine minutes into the extra frame.
“We talked about it as a staff. When I coached in the ECHL, we rolled 10 players,” Laxdal said. “These kids are thoroughbreds. They can go. But in a pressure situation like this, we could have gone down 3-1 instead we tied it up 2-2.
“The kids recover pretty quick and you could see when we got into overtime they got that second wind.”
Laxdal has juggled his remaining defencemen over the last two games, giving Cody Corbett, Ashton Sautner and Ryan Dech some ice time to give his top-four defencemen a breather when they’ve needed it. Laxdal said he was pleased with Dech’s play in Game 4, but was still evaluating who to play on Thursday.
“Ryan had two great blocked shots. He’s one of those guys who will step in front of a shot so we have a big decision,” he said.
“For young guys like Sautner and Cody, these kids are 17, 18 years old and this is a new experience for them. There’s a lot of pressure on them and if they make a mistake it’s magnified … if they get back into the lineup they have to be ready to step up.”
As the Oil Kings rested Wednesday and prepped for Thursday’s Game 5 at Rexall Place, Pysyk said that he and all of the Edmonton skaters who are logging heavy minutes have plenty left in the tank, whether this series goes another two or three games.
“You wear down a little bit, but it’s not as bad as people might think it is,” he said. “You’ve got to remember, it’s the WHL finals.
“If you can’t find enough energy to go, then something else is wrong. It’s a lot of fun and you want to play as much as possible. Stakes are high right now.”
With files from Joanne Ireland
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