Four days after completing a grueling playoff series that saw them claim the WHL championship, the Edmonton Oil Kings spoke to reporters on Friday with just four days to go before their next challenge: a bid to win the Memorial Cup.
“We enjoyed it for a day or two, and I think we’re focused on next week in the East,” Capt. Jake Neighbors said.
“I think we’re ready for that.”
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On Monday night, the team lifted the Ed Chynoweth Cup after an impressive 2-0 victory in Game 6 of their series against the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Oil Kings finished the WHL playoffs with an incredible 16-3 record.
On Tuesday, the team will face the Shawinigan Cataractes in their first match of the Memorial Cup tournament.
At the tournament, the youth team from the host city (Saint John Sea Dogs) and the winners of the WHL, OHL (Hamilton Bulldogs) and QMJHL (Shawinigan) championships will compete for a national championship.
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“The expectation (of winning) is there. We put it on ourselves,” Oil Kings General Manager Kirt Hill said Friday. year was to win a championship.
“If you look at our list, we’ve created this group to give ourselves the best chance, we think, of winning a Memorial Cup, and that’s been our goal from day one.”
Oil Kings forward Carter Souch is a native of Edmonton who has played for the team for five seasons. He said he’s been on some memorable teams, but “this is here for the most special group I’ve ever been on.”
“It has been said all year, we are a group of brothers,” Souch told reporters. “It’s great to come to the track every day.
“We have achieved a goal and we still have one to do.”
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On Friday, Hill provided an update on the injuries facing the team. Forwards Brendan Kuny and Dylan Guenther were injured in the series against Seattle. Hill said Kuny would be available to play, but Guenther, a key offensive producer on the team, remains out.
“(I) feel sorry for him,” Neighbors said.
“He’s a great competitor and a key player for our team, and he wants to be out there and compete with us.”
“We’ll do it for him,” Souch said as he discussed how the team will step in to try to make up for Guenther’s absence. “It’s hard to watch (losing that).
“He’s probably one of the hardest working guys I know.”
Hill took over as general manager four years ago and has built an impressive roster from which NHL clubs have already recruited several players.
During the season, he added to an already strong core of talent, acquiring key players like forward Justin Sourdif and defenders Luke Prokop and Kaiden Guhle through trades. On Monday, Guhle was named the WHL playoffs MVP.
“You think about the guys that we had to let go that were elements of other deals … some of those deals weren’t easy to close,” Hill said. “But, at the end of the day, the guys we had were important pieces to our group and they gave us a chance to win the Memorial Cup now.
“I think just about every move that we’ve brought a guy here at some point, in the playoffs and especially the Finals, has contributed significantly. So it was important to us.
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Hill said that with COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of the previous two seasons’ WHL playoffs, and with several Oil Kings nearing the end of their junior hockey careers, he felt it was up to the players to make the roster. . as strong as possible. before the postseason.
“I mean, they have given a lot back to our organization,” he said. “We owe it to them and we owe it to all the staff who have been here for four years.”
Neighbors said having a team with so many talented players taught him and his teammates what it takes to be successful.
“No matter the level of talent, no matter the level of skill, everyone wants to win,” he said. “Every time you win a championship, teams talk about sacrifice. I think that’s also part of it: sacrificing, whether it’s points, minutes, things like that.
“When you have a team as deep as ours, sacrifices will have to be made. Our team has done a great job all year, having that next man mentality.”
Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer says there will be distractions, but his team is determined to focus on the job at hand when the Memorial Cup tournament kicks off in New Brunswick next week. .
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“All the family members go there, all the tickets go there, all the friends go there,” he acknowledged, adding that players will also be able to enjoy “down time” there. down.
“(But) it’s a business trip… the same approach we took for the playoffs.
“We’ll do our best to keep the guys focused.”
Lauer added that his players have shown maturity throughout the season and he believes they are up to the task of preparing for another championship run just days after the last one ended.
“The leadership that we have in the room, they understand,” he said. “These guys know what they want to do.
“They believe in each other, they support each other… They challenge each other every day. They have fun every day. It is a very united team. »
Neighbors said that with COVID-19 impacting youth hockey in different ways over the past two years, the memorable playoff run his team was on made him and his teammates grateful.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s enough to be thankful,” he said. “It is something that we have been taught during the pandemic: things can be taken from you with a snap of the fingers.
“So that’s exciting. We have fans in the building, we play exciting hockey and I mean, that’s what you want as a junior hockey player.
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Guhle played in the 2019 Memorial Cup when he was a member of the Prince Albert Raiders. He said one of the things the experience taught him was that “you have to be ready to play every game” in such a short tournament.
“You really can’t afford too many major breakdowns,” Guhle said. “It will be fun.
“We are excited to take on the challenge.”
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