Oil Kings aim to quickly refocus
Short four-team tournament requires changed mindset after WHL playoff grind
By Joanne Ireland, edmontonjournal.com
May 15, 2012
Head coach Derek Laxdal during an Oil Kings practice.
Photograph by: Candace Elliott , edmotonjournal.com
EDMONTON - There won’t be much in the way of on-ice tinkering for the head coach of the freshly crowned Western Hockey League champs.
It’s the mindset that needs to change, said Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal.
After emerging from the best-of-seven league final with Sunday’s Game 7 victory over the Portland WInterhawks, the Oil Kings roll into the four-team, Memorial Cup round robin this week.
Edmonton plays its first game on Friday against the host Shawinigan Cataractes.
The Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs round out the tournament.
“We’re going from a marathon situation to a short-term event ... so we really have to revamp our mentality,” Laxdal said on Tuesday when the Oil Kings returned to Rexall Place for one last practice in Edmonton.
The team was scheduled to fly to Quebec on Wednesday, certain that their experience of playing in the loud, crowded and hostile Rose Garden in Portland will serve them well in the Cataractes’ rink.
The Oil Kings just won’t have much time to adjust. Before taking on Portland, Edmonton knocked off the Kootenay Ice, Brandon Wheat Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors — all in best-of-seven series.
Now the Oil Kings are slotted into an oft-criticized format that will see the top team in the round robin advance to the sudden-death final on May 27 while the second- and third-place teams meet in the semifinal on May 25.
“One day, you have the Cup above you, the next day you’re back at work,” centre Travis Ewanyk said. “It’s definitely new for all of us. I mean, you come out of one league, then realize there’s (two) other champions and a host team waiting to knock you down for the big prize.”
“It’s going to be different,” said captain Mark Pysyk. “Anything can happen in a tournament format, so we do have to go out and play our best.
“We’re still pretty excited about what we accomplished a couple of nights ago, but we need to refocus before we get to Shawinigan. We’ll need to come with the Game 7 mentality every night.”
Defenceman Keegan Lowe said that if Oil Kings zero in on their game, they should be able to move past the other hurdle, which is facing off against teams they have only seen from afar.
“I’ve heard it said a lot that this is the toughest trophy to win in hockey because you have to get through your own league, then kind of brush that away,” Lowe said. “We just need to get through the round robin and see where we go from there.”
In short, there’s more work to be done.
“It’s still a surreal feeling,” said forward Michael St. Croix. “Winning the championship is something you push for all season and now that’s done, there’s a second task to be completed.”
“It’s tough,” said goaltender Laurent Brossoit. “You win, and it’s such a big accomplishment that it’s hard to keep the emotions in check. But we have to. There’s more to come.”
Laxdal has sought advice from other coaches who have been to recent Memorial Cups and thinks the experience last weekend will serve the players well. The Oil Kings were defeated by the Winterhawks on Saturday in Portland, then responded less than 24 hours later with a convincing 4-1 victory.
“It’s our job as a coaching staff to control the emotions rather than have the emotions control the players,” he said. “It’s almost like going from Game 6 to Game 7. You have to have a short-term memory.
“Look at the final series. We went from a seven-game series to a five-game series to a three-game series to a one-game knock-off. That will definitely help us ... .
“For us, it’s another opportunity to add some more hardware and represent Edmonton and the Western Hockey League. We should be proud of what we’ve done but we want to play our best hockey in Shawinigan.”
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