THN at the Memorial Cup: Edmonton trades on experience

Oil-Kings

LONDON, ON – Three days after a jaw-dropping double-overtime loss to Val-d’Or, the Western League’s Edmonton Oil Kings have an opportunity for revenge, as they will take on the Foreurs in the Memorial Cup semifinal tonight.

The Oil Kings know they could have played better in the 4-3 round robin setback, but they also know the punishing physical game they parlayed into an early 2-0 lead was a solid strategy against the Quebec League champs.

“It was huge,” said center Curtis Lazar. “Really pressuring their ‘D’ and throwing pucks on net was going to be the key and I thought we did that for the most part, but I guess we needed a couple more of those.”

Lazar, who was taken 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2013, was a beast for the Oil Kings, throwing his weight around and notching a point on each of the first two Edmonton scores. A smart, all-around player who probably could have helped the Senators this season, Lazar is instead gunning for his first Memorial Cup title after falling short two years ago in Shawinigan. Other key members from that 2012 squad still in Edmonton include fellow first-rounders Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders) and Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix), as well as NHL prospects Mitch Moroz (Edmonton) and Cody Corbett (Colorado). That experience has kept the Oil Kings confident and the older players are passing it on.

“That’s a big thing we’ve talked about,” Lazar said. “The guys that were in Shawinigan, we spoke up and talked to the younger guys going into this tournament. I mean, who knows what will get thrown at us? Take (Tuesday) night. I had never played in an overtime game at the Memorial Cup before. The margin of error is so small in this tournament.”

One doting student is left winger Brett Pollock, a high-rising 2014 draft prospect who is turning heads with his 6-foot-2 frame and offensive capabilities. Pollock is playing on Lazar’s wing with Reid Petryk on the right side and the youngster is doing his part. Pollock has a nice physical dimension to his game, but also prides himself on his scoring ability.

“When I get the puck, I’m pretty dangerous,” he said. “I like to shoot the puck, I like to set up my teammates and my vision is a strength.”

Pollock netted 25 goals and 55 points in 71 games, a huge step up from the four points in 40 he tallied last year as a rookie. Skating is still a work in progress, but with Lazar as a mentor, the student knows he’s in good hands.

“He’s a great leader on this line,” Pollock said. “Me and ‘Petey’ really feed off him. He keeps it positive on the bench, he lets us know when we make mistakes and how to fix them and he works so hard you have to keep up with him. It makes you a better player.”

If the Oil Kings can put together a full 60 minutes against Val-d’Or tonight, there’s a very good chance they’ll move on to face Guelph in the title game. They’ve already surpassed their 2012 effort, when Edmonton won its opener against Shawinigan before getting drilled in three straight losses, including a tourney-ender in the tiebreaker against the host Cataractes. A player such as Pollock could make a big difference in that regard.

“He’s had a great season; just taken leaps and bounds,” Lazar said. “He’s become a marquee player for us, shot up the draft rankings and deservedly so.”