Cody Corbett has tried to enjoy all the moments and details of a junior career that was nearing its end.
Corbett's Edmonton Oil Kings were taking on the Portland Winterhawks for the Western Hockey League championship, with the winner advancing to the Memorial Cup and the loser's season coming to a close. With no guarantee his Oil Kings would make it to the Canadian Hockey League finals, the Colorado Avalanche prospect made sure to enjoy what could have been the final weeks of a successful junior run.
"There were times in the series that I just soaked it all in," Corbett said. "I talked with a couple guys on the team about it, too, giving us a little inspiration saying, 'We're going to be moving on to the next level next year; this is our last opportunity to do something great as teammates.' That was another thing that gave us a real good push going into the series."
As it turned out, he will have a few more games to enjoy "those moments" and a chance to end his junior career with another championship.
|Cody Corbett celebrates with the Ed Chynoweth Cup after the Oil Kings defeated the Winterhawks in Game 7 on Monday, May 12 (Credit: Edmonton Oil Kings). |
The Oil Kings defeated the Winterhawks in seven games to win their second WHL title in three seasons and book a trip to London, Ontario for the Memorial Cup.
This year's Memorial Cup features the three league winners in the CHL: Edmonton (WHL), Guelph Storm (Ontario Hockey League) and Val-d'Or Foreurs (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and the host team, London Knights. Every club will face each other for seeding in a playoff that will ultimately lead to a champion being crowned May 25.
Edmonton will begin play with back-to-back games Saturday against Guelph (2 p.m. MT) and Sunday against London (5 p.m. MT). The Oil Kings will close round-robin play on Tuesday versus Val-d'Or (5 p.m. MT) and fellow Avalanche prospect Samuel Henley.
Colorado signed Henley to a three-year contract on May 6. Val-d'Or begins play Friday against London.
This year's tournament will be Corbett's second, as the defenseman participated in the 2012 Memorial Cup with Edmonton as an 18-year-old barely removed from high school in the U.S. That year was the Oil Kings' first Memorial Cup in their current incarnation (since 2007-08), and they went 1-2 in round-robin play before losing 6-1 in the tiebreaker playoff game to the eventual champion Shawinigan Cataractes.
Corbett, 20, said this year's team would have to be more focused on its own game than what it was in 2012.
"Definitely have to stick to our game. We can't focus on what [the other teams] are going to do. We just have to play how we play, and do the best that we can," Corbett said. "That is something we didn't do the first time. We were just kind of there, and just because we won the [WHL] championship—and that was the first time in the modern era that [the Oil Kings] had even won a playoff game that year—so we were just happy to be there."
Almost all the clubs in this year's tournament will bring in some kind of momentum from their own league playoffs, and that especially holds true for the Oil Kings.
After falling down 2-0 in its series with Portland, Edmonton won the next two games at home and four of the next five to capture the league title. That run included the Oil Kings winning Game 7 in Portland by a 4-2 score.
"After those first two games in Portland we had to take a step back and look at ourselves and say, 'Hey, do we really want this? Do we really want another chance at the title?,'" Corbett said.
The answer was "yes," but by Edmonton's start in Game 3 it would have been difficult to tell.
The Winterhawks took a 2-0 lead just 3:30 into the game, but the Oil Kings began to cut away at the deficit in the second period. Edmonton scored on the power play to get to within one goal 4:11 into the stanza and then tied the game on Luke Bertolucci's breakaway goal less than seven minutes later in what Corbett said was a series-turning moment.
"That kind of gave us some power and strength," Corbett said of the tying goal. "It really gave us a good push."
Edmonton took the lead midway through the third and held on to get back in the series.
The Oil Kings won the next two games and had a chance to close out the Winterhawks on home ice in Game 6, but Portland had its own comeback as it erased a three-goal deficit and pulled out a 6-5 overtime victory to force Game 7.
Edmonton once again faced adversity in the seventh game after Portland picked up where it left off.
The Winterhawks led 1-0 in the early minutes of the contest, but like they had done earlier in the series, the Oil Kings regrouped. They scored four second-period goals en route to a league championship and the guarantee of at least four more games in their season.
It was a fitting win for the Oil Kings as the Winterhawks had defeated them in last year's finals before advancing all the way to the Memorial Cup championship game. This year marked the third consecutive season that Edmonton and Portland had met in the WHL Finals.
"It was really good redemption after last year," Corbett said. "They kind of took it to us last year. They came at us pretty hard. They really took it to us. Our coaches really made it a point this year to play and battle for each other in the room, and battle as hard as you can for the guy sitting next to you because you don't know if you will get an opportunity like this again."
Corbett had an assist in Game 7 against Portland and finished the WHL playoffs with 13 points (six goals and seven assists) and a plus-12 rating, both ranking among the most by defensemen on the team.
The Lakeland, Minn., native has improved his two-way game over the past few years, but it wasn't until this season that he became a dominant offensive defenseman. Corbett set a franchise single-season record for goals (17) and points (61) by a defenseman in 65 games this season. He also finished as the franchise's all-time defensemen leader for goals (30-tied) and points (129)—an impressive accomplishment considering he only played three seasons in the WHL.
His offensive surge was enough for the Avalanche to sign him as an undrafted free agent on March 5.
"I had a few points last year, too, but this year I really wanted to show people that I'm offensive as well," Corbett said.
"[Last] summer that was one thing that I really focused on, my offensive game. Practicing my shot and practicing different scenarios in the offensive zone. I think that really paid off, putting in that effort and work this summer."
Corbett's offensive prowess from the back end should help Edmonton as it looks to bring a Memorial Cup back to the city for the first time since 1966, during the first incarnation of the Oil Kings.
After three years in Alberta's capital and with now two WHL championships, Corbett said one thing that he has learned about himself is to live in the moment.
He will most certainly be doing just that with a national title on the line.
"Play for each day. Don't worry about what will happen any time in the future," Corbett said. "Just live in the moment and enjoy what is going around you at that time. Definitely, because these past few years have gone faster than I ever thought they would."