|Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk faces off against Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice during their first-round matchup at Rexall Place (Photo by Marko Ditkun / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
- After sweeping the Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades in opening-round competition, the Medicine Hat Tigers have left little to the imagination.
They're for real.
Saskatoon ended the regular season with the second-best record in the WHL's Eastern Conference, 14 points back of the conference-leading Oil Kings, and was awarded home ice by virtue of its 19- (nineteen!) point advantage over Medicine Hat. But, led by Curtis Valk and top draft-eligible prospect Hunter Shinkaruk, the Tigers defeated the Blades by one-sided scores of 4-1, 3-0, 5-2 and 3-1.
It wasn't even close.
The Oil Kings had similar success over the Kootenay Ice, outscoring them 25-4 en route to a 4-1 series win. As a result, the two teams will meet in the WHL's Eastern Conference Semi-Final.
"We've got to look at what they did last series," said Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk, a veteran Edmonton Oil King who recorded a goal and three points vs. Kootenay. "That was a very good Saskatoon team that had really loaded up and had a lot of pride on the line. To take them out in four games like that, we certainly can't take them lightly.
"Kootenay was a deceiving team to play. You look back at the scores with that one 9-0 game and a couple other higher scoring games, but it didn't feel like it. Throughout, they felt like 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 games and they played us hard. It was a really good team to play right off the hop to get us going.
"You never want to play a team that rolls over and gives up on you. They pushed us right to the end."
With Game 1 between the Tigers and Oil Kings set for Friday night at Rexall Place, it's a new day, a new series and a new challenge to get up for. Medicine Hat is riding high and will be counting on Shinkaruk to continue driving the bus.
The versatile, 5-foot-10, 181-pound forward (he can play left wing or centre) collected two goals and two assists vs. Saskatoon. In 71 regular-season games, the shifty pivot collected 37 goals and 86 points and could very well be a Top 5 pick at the upcoming 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Chances are Ewanyk, along with his linemates Mitch Moroz and Edgars Kulda, will get a healthy dose of the Calgary, AB product throughout the series.
"When you have a chance to play against a top player like that, it's a good challenge for everyone," said Ewanyk. "We're going to try and shut him down and keep him contained like we did with (Sam) Reinhart vs. Kootenay, so it will be a good test.
"Any time you go through another team's roster and they have a player like Shinkaruk, you have to key on him. That's part of being prepared. Truthfully, though, they have a lot of dangerous guys and so do we. Our goal is to get them focused on our top guys as well, which will force them to play our game and not their own. That's the best way to get them off their game."
Flourishing in his role, Ewanyk recently signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Oilers. Chosen in the third round, 74th overall in 2011, the 19-year-old registered eight goals and 23 points in 2012-13 and has had a productive start so far in the post-season.
Going head-to-head against and shadowing the League's best is an assignment Ewanyk has been committed to all season.
"A lot of the year we played with Klarc (Wilson, traded Prince George in January) or Stephane (Legault) in that role, and right now we're playing with Eddie (Kulda). He's a great player and works hard. Mitch and I will always have that chemistry together. Our third and fourth lines have chipped in with some big goals all year. It's nice to give the Top 2 lines a little bit of rest and when we get out there against other teams' top lines, they're hard minutes and it's nice to chip in with a few goals.
"We all play the same game and know what's going on in each others' heads. We're not expecting each other to go out there and dangle across the blue lines and try a bunch of fancy plays. They're getting the puck deep and I'm getting in hard on the forecheck, trying to use my body to make an impact that way.
"Their goal is the same, so we complement each other very well."
The Oil Kings lost only one of six meetings with the Tigers this season, but Ewanyk isn't getting caught up in past success. It's about the here and now, moving forward to come full circle and put a stamp on some "unfinished business."
"We've got a goal of what we want to do in the playoffs," he said, "and they're in our way right now."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick