Mother’s Day Game 7 finales doesn’t get more special than this
Oil Kings, Winterhawks both up-tempo, high-octane clubs ready to put on a spectacular show Sunday
By John MacKinnon, edmontonjournal.com
May 13, 2012 8:57 AM
Oil King's #2 Cody Corbett blocks Winterhawks #28 Brendan Leipsic as he shoots at the Oil Kings net in game 6 of the Western Hockey League Championship playoffs in Portland.
Photograph by: Doug Beghtel, The Oregonian , edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - Once more on Mother’s Day, with even more feeling?
For the two best teams in the Western Hockey League, why not go to Game 7 tonight (6 p.m. puck drop at Rexall Place) to determine whether the Oil Kings or the Portland Winterhawks will go to Shawinigan, Que., from May 18-27 to compete in the Memorial Cup tournament?
After all, there has been next door to nothing separating these two mirror-image, uptempo, high-octane clubs through six games of the best-of-seven WHL final series.
If Game 7 wasn’t stone-cold inevitable, it certainly seems fitting, for the players, but mostly for the fans of both clubs. Even their prospective opponents from London (OHL), Shawinigan (host) and Saint John (QMJHL champion) in the Memorial Cup must be enjoying this tug of war between two heavyweight WHL clubs, but not for artistic reasons.
Neither the Oil Kings nor the Winterhawks can sweat the small stuff like energy level right now. On a brutally quick turnaround, they’ve got to go after it again tonight in the finale of a series many wouldn’t mind going nine games, or 11.
It has been that good, that thrilling, that memorable.
The Winterhawks, 3-2 winners in front a sellout crowd of 10,947 at the Rose Garden in Portland, have scored 20 goals and surrendered 17 in the series. In other words, three goals separate the two clubs through six games, with Game 7 on offer tonight.
But calling this matchup close doesn’t quite do it justice in any sense of the word.
Oil Kings veteran forward Rhett Rachinski is playing against his best bud, Troy Rutkowski of the Winterhawks, for example.
Oil Kings captain Mark Pysyk famously won Game 5 with a laserlike wrist shot at 19:04 of the third period. His childhood chum from Sherwood Park and best friend, Joe Morrow of the Winterhawks, scored the tying goal for Portland in the third period of Game 6 on Saturday night.
Heartbreakingly for Oil Kings defenceman Keegan Lowe, he inadvertently swept that puck through the legs of his superb goalie, Laurent Brossoit at 8:44 of the third period, but they all count.
Stephane Legault got that one back for Edmonton at 11:05 of the final period. But on a night when the Winterhawks outshot Edmonton 45-32, the Oil Kings eventually ran out of mojo. Portland’s Oliver Gabriel, another Edmonton product, certainly had his, scoring twice, including the game-winner on wrist shot that caromed in off Brossoit’s blocker at 17:21.
Back in the day, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times sports columnist Red Smith dismissed hockey as one of the “back-and-forth” sports.
The late Mr. Smith wasn’t wrong about much, but he missed the point of hockey. This series has been spectacular precisely because of the momentum swings, the end-to-end action and the lead changes.
Outside of the world junior hockey championship, you simply will not see the game played at this level.
Now, you can witness this springtime spectacle one final time at Rexall Place, where the Oil Kings set a franchise attendance record for Game 5 on Thursday night, when 11,077 showed up to witness Pysyk’s dramatic game-winner, and much else.
One final time this season, Edmonton fans can get an eyeful of Portland stars Ty Rattie, Sven Baertschi and Marcel Noebels, the top three scorers in the WHL playoffs, as lethal a trio of opponents as you’ll see.
One final time, Pysyk, Lowe, Griffin Reinhart and Martin Gernat, Edmonton’s dominant Big Four will be out there, wheeling up from the back end to support the attack, laying on the body.
One more time, Brossoit will try to outduel his Portland counterpart, Mac Carruth in goal, with the margin for error, wafer thin.
Come see the show. Bring your Mom; bring the whole family.
This is special, plain and simple.
And, win or lose, the Oil Kings have earned a rousing send-off, either into the bittersweet summer, or off to Shawinigan. For that matter, so have the Winterhawks.
Check out my blog, Sweatsox, at edmontonjournal.com/blogs
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