Edmonton Oil Kings
How They Got Here: Edmonton posted its third consecutive 50-win season to capture the Central Division crown for the third straight year under head coach Derek Laxdal.
Though it was a young squad with a lot of turnover from last year’s team, the Oil Kings defied odds and breezed through the first three rounds, sweeping the Prince Albert Raiders in the opening round, then dispatching the Brandon Wheat Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers in five games apiece to advance to the final.
For the third straight year, Edmonton faced off with the Portland Winterhawks for Western Hockey League supremacy. After falling to Portland last season, Edmonton took the Ed Chynoweth Cup back for the second time in three years in a hard-fought seven-game series.
In an interesting historical aside, the original Oil Kings franchise moved to Portland to become the Winterhawks in 1976, so I can’t imagine how passionate the last three championship series must have been for longtime Edmonton hockey fans.
2012 also marked Edmonton’s only other Memorial Cup appearance, losing in the tie-breaker to the host and eventual champion Shawinigan Cataractes. They will look to become the first WHL team to win the Memorial Cup since the Spokane Chiefs won it in 2008, though the celebration is better known for one of the more memorable hockey bloopers in recent memory, perhaps cursing the WHL in the tournament.
On a sombre note, the Oil Kings played this season in memory of former teammate Kristians Pelss, an Oilers prospect who passed away in Latvia last June at the age of 20.
Key Players: Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry has been exceptional in net for the Oil Kings this season, leading the CHL in wins with 44 while posting eight shutouts and a 2.24 goals-against average.
Jarry can be lights-out when he’s on top of his game, as evidenced by the six shutouts he posted in just 27 games in the 2012-13 season. He further stepped up his game in the playoffs, posting three shutouts and a 2.19 goals-against average while playing every game.
Up front, Ottawa Senators first-round pick Curtis Lazar is one of the team’s offensive leaders, while Arizona Coyotes prospect Henrik Samuelsson (son of former NHLer Kjell Samuelsson) led the Oil Kings in playoff scoring with 23 points. Brett Pollock led the Oil Kings with 11 playoff goals, while Edgars Kulda and Mitchell Moroz were both very productive.
Siblings have also had a spotlight in Edmonton. Mads Eller, younger brother of Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller, had a goal and an assist in Game 7 against Portland, while Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart, whose younger brother, Sam, is considered one of the top prospects for June’s draft, was named the most valuable player in the WHL playoffs.
Reinhart’s Memorial Cup experience from 2012 should prove invaluable as a young Oil Kings squad takes the ice in London.