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FUTURE WATCH | Battle Royale

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oil Kings face the Brandon Wheat Kings in round one of the 2016 WHL Playoffs.
It’s been a surprising playoff run for the Edmonton Oil Kings thus far, and they’re more than happy about that.

 
With a two-game series lead over the Brandon Wheat Kings, they’ve already made great gains in their sixth consecutive playoff birth. 
 
“I think we’ve just found a way to shut them down so far,” said Oil Kings defenceman Dysin Mayo. “We kind of limit their Grade-A scoring opportunities and [if] they do get them, Payton’s there to make the saves, so that’s big for us.”
 
Goaltender Payton Lee has been a force for the Oil Kings, having stepped into the starter position after Patrick Dea sustained a leg injury during a game against the Calgary Hitmen on March 11.
 
“We’ve had some weird things happen to our goaltenders this year,” said Oil Kings head coach Steve Hamilton. “The responsibility has fallen on his shoulders and he seems very poised and calm about it so that’s comforting and reassuring.”
 
Lee stopped 39 of 41 shots in the Oil Kings first game against the Wheat Kings in Brandon, MB, helping his team secure a 4-2 victory. The following night, Brandon pushed back harder, but Lee denied 43 of the 44 shots that targeted Edmonton’s net for the 2-1 win heading back to Edmonton.
 
“The team is obviously playing really great in front of me too,” said Lee. “The guys are boxing out, letting me see pucks and blocking lots of shots so they’ve made it a lot easier on me.”
 
But it’s not to say the Oil Kings journey this season hasn’t been without its challenges.
 
Tied for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with the Medicine Hat Tigers, finishing the season with 65 points each, the two teams faced off in a tiebreaker to see which team would advance to the post-season.
 
It was a do-or-die situation for Edmonton, who had lost all six regular-season games to the Tigers and in turn dropped an 11-point lead in the WHL standings to them.
 
The Oil Kings celebrate their win against the Medicine Hat Tigers in order to advance to the Eastern Conference quarter finals.
“Going into that tiebreaker game, anything could have happened,” said Oil Kings Captain Brandon Baddock. “[It] probably wasn’t a scenario that we would’ve wanted.”
 
Though the Oil Kings were down 2-0 five minutes into the first, they rallied a comeback just before the midway point of the period, and had a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of hockey.
 
As Medicine Hat responded in the third to make it a 4-4 game, Oil Kings forward Dario Meyer edged his team ahead by one with a shorthanded goal, while Baddock potted the insurance goal with seven seconds left in the game for Edmonton’s 6-4 victory.
 
“It was a bit of a roller-coaster,” admitted Oil Kings defenceman Ben Carroll, who assisted Baddock’s goal that night. “The emotions are going to be high, obviously with the tiebreaker… but just getting through that and to go to Brandon was special.”
 
Despite winning three of four regular season games against the Wheat Kings, and now the first two games in the quarter-final playoff series, the Oil Kings aren’t taking their success for granted.
 
“I think you can look at that [Medicine Hat game] as a confidence booster,” said Baddock. “It probably wasn’t a game that we wanted to be in but I think when we were there we really picked up our game and continued that into playoffs.”
 
The playoffs have pitted the eighth-seeded Oil Kings against the first-place and Division Champion Wheat Kings for a second year in a row.
 
Although last year’s outcome saw the Oil Kings win the first game, they barely had time to recover as the Wheat Kings swept the next four to advance to the next round, leaving Edmonton in their proverbial grain dust.
 
“After Game 1 — which, a year ago, we learned a lesson after being real pleased with the Game 1 effort, [going] into Game 2 we were nowhere near or good enough or prepared enough — I thought that our approach to Game 2 was very level-headed,” said Hamilton. “[We] certainly [weren’t] projecting ourselves into a situation, we just played the game and as it played out obviously it worked in our favour.”
 
Oil Kings Brett Pollock advances on the Wheat Kings net. 
Though it could be considered a redemption series, Hamilton said that it’s more a case of familiarity than rivalry.
 
“Four of the last five meetings we’ve met in the playoffs and you do establish a bit of an understanding of each other’s games,” said the Oil Kings bench boss. “A few years ago, we were in a different time in our development as a program. We were on, probably, poised to be one of the league leaders.”
 
And it’s true. Flashback to the 2013-14 season, the Oil Kings placed first in the Eastern Conference with a 50-19-2-1 record, while the Wheat Kings sat in sixth with a 34-29-6-3 record.

While the playoff run saw the two teams faceoff against each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Edmonton ended up sweeping Brandon in the series 4-1.

Though the Oil Kings cruised through the first three rounds of the WHL playoffs that year, sweeping each series, the Championship series win over Portland took seven games. Their ultimate challenge came when they reached the Memorial Cup. 
 
“Going into the tournament, going into the actual Memorial Cup, we were the underdogs,” said Oilers defenceman Griffin Reinhart, who captained the Kings in 2013-14.

Edmonton had to play a tiebreaker and a semifinal match to reach the championship game against the top-seeded Guelph Storm from the OHL. They shocked the Storm, though, winning 6-3 to capture the national crown.

“Sometimes it’s a good thing being the underdog,” Reinhart said. “There’s no pressure on you and you just go out and play and that’s what it looks like they’re doing right now.”
 
The former captain said he’s got plenty of faith in the player now wearing the Oil Kings ‘C’, forward Brandon Baddock.
 
Former Oil Kings Captain Griffin Reinhart carries the 2014 Memorial Cup trophy to his teammates. Photo by Getty Images.
“[Baddock]’s got experience,” said Reinhart. “I think he’s going to do a good job leading by example. [Similar] thing that [former captain, now Buffalo Sabre Mark] Pysyk helped me through my years [with the team], where you just get to watch him and be a leader. The guys are really young and they have somebody they want to look up to and cling on to for advice and I think he’s going to handle it pretty well.”
 
The tide has since turned, with the Wheat Kings clinching the conference with a 48-18-4-2 record, while Edmonton placed eighth, posting a 29-36-6-1 record.
 
“The shoe has kind of fallen on the other foot now… where we’re younger, a little bit different time in our growth,” said Hamilton.
 
“So we’ve worn kind of both shoes so to speak… It’s a highly competitive series and they’re an excellent team and a well coached team, it just seems to be something, it’s an annual right in the spring to have to go through Brandon at some point — so we’re just embracing that part of it.”
 
A four-day break has given the Oil Kings time to recover from their long road trip. Now home for the next three games (if necessary), Mayo said they are just taking the playoff road one day at a time.
 
“We can’t get too high on ourselves here,” said Mayo. “We know they’re a good team, we know they can score, so for us we’ve just got to take it in stride and continue to do what we’re doing.”
 
Though Hamilton says the team has developed and maintained an “even-keel” attitude in the locker room, there is still work to do. With the lull before Game 3, it’s allowed the Oil Kings the chance to fine-tune their structure.
 
“[Brandon’s] very explosive and how we manage our game often has an impact on how they’re able to play,” he said. “I’d like to see us stretch the rink out a little bit more and not set the table for them as much as transition. But those are all things that we’ve talked about throughout the year so it’s been a work in progress and we’re not overhauling anything but we are fine-tuning for sure.”
 
Game 3 goes tonight at 7pm MT at Rexall Place, while Game 4 is Thursday at the same time. Game 5 (if necessary) will be Sunday at 4pm MT, before the series could potentially move back to Brandon. Tickets are available at OilKings.ca and via Ticketmaster.

Statistics For In The System Through Past Seasons: 14-15 | 13-14 | 12-13 | 11-12
Stats Updated as of Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bakersfield (AHL) - Forwards


Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
GREG CHASE C 20 19 1 6 7 +3 25
BRADEN CHRISTOFFER LW 21 30 1 3 4 -11 57
JOSH CURRIE* C 23 46 6 8 14 -1 42
LEON DRAISAITL C 20 6 1 1 2 -5 4
MATTHEW FORD*   RW 31 55 25 21 46 0 54
LUKE GAZDIC   LW 26 11 1 2 3 +1 6
RYAN HAMILTON   LW 30 57 20 12 32 -8 41
KELLEN JONES*   LW 25 12 1 2 3 0 6
ZACK KASSIAN   RW 24 7 2 1 3 0 16
KALE KESSY   LW 23 49 7 5 12 +3 77
JUJHAR KHAIRA   LW 21 40 10 16 26 +7 52
ROB KLINKHAMMER   LW 29 23 13 8 21 -1 34
ALEXIS LOISEAU*   C 21 12 1 2 3 +1 2
ANDREW MILLER   RW/C 27 44 15 24 39 +3 18
MITCH MOROZ   LW 21 35 3 5 8 +4 90
PHILIP MCRAE* C 25 29 5 3 8 -2 16
IIRO PAKARINEN   RW 24 4 1 2 3 0 4
TYLER PITLICK   RW 24 35 7 14 21 -1 4
KYLE PLATZER RW 20 40 5 10 15 -4 18
MARC-OLIVIER ROY* C 21 35 6 5 11 -2 14
ANTON SLEPYSHEV LW 21 40 10 7 17 -13 20
JOSH WINQUIST*   LW 22 30 8 20 28 -6 32
BOGDAN YAKIMOV   C/W 21 27 4 8 12 -3 8
DANIIL ZHARKOV (INJURED)
LW 21 - - - - - -
Bakersfield (AHL) - Defencemen


Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER   d 21 8 0 1 1 -2 7
MARK FAYNE   d 28 4 0 1 1 0 4
brad hunt   D 27 49 10 27 37 +4 18
JOEY LALEGGIA   D 23 54 7 17 24 +8 38
DAVID MUSIL D 22 58 3 10 13 -1 35
NIKITA NIKITIN   D 29 30 1 13 14 -9 0
DARNELL NURSE   D 20 6 0 1 1 0 7
JORDAN OESTERLE   d 23 42 3 20 23 -1 8
NICK PAGEAU*   D 27 18 0 3 3 -6 4
GRIFFIN REINHART   D 21 27 2 7 9 +2 14
DILLON SIMPSON
D 22 48 3 13 16 +5 20
Norfolk (ECHL)


Name POS age    GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER D 21 49 3 14 17 -2 53
GREG CHASE F 20 37 16 16 32 -1 44
Canadian Hockey League
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
CALEB JONES  D 18 72 10 45 55 +4 64 PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS (WHL)
PlAYOFFS  3 0 2 2 0 6
ETHAN BEAR  D 18 69 19 46 65 +14 33 SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS (WHL)
Playoffs  3 1 2 3  +4 0
NCAA & USHL
Name POS age  GP G A   P +/- PIM team
EVAN CAMPBELL   LW 22 28 5  7 12 +4 16 UMASS-LOWELL (NCAA)
WILLIAM LAGESSON
D 19 27 2 5 7 -6 26 UMASS-AMHERST (NCAA)
JOHN MARINO d 18 49 3 24 27 +14 43 TRI-CITY (USHL)
AIDAN MUIR LW 20 35 2 6 8 -17 20 WESTERN MICHIGAN (NCAA)
TYLER VESEL   C 21 35 6 12 18 +1 2 NEBRASKA-OMAHA (NCAA)
Europe
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
ROMAN HORAK C 24 57 15 12 27 -9 32 CHEKHOV (KHL)
ZIYAT PAIGIN  F 20 37 9 18 27 +3 8 SOCHI (KHL)
  8 0 1 1 +2 2 KAZAN (KHL)
ANTTI TYRVAINEN  F 26 19 5 3 8 +3 22 FARJESTADS BK KARLSTAD (Sweden)
  13 5 1 6 +1 53 ILVES TAMPERE (finland)
BOGDAN YAKIMOV C 21 11 3 1 4 0 2 Nizhnekamsk (KHL)
2016 World Junior Hockey Championships
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
WILLIAM LAGESSON
D 19 7 2 1 3 +7 4 SWEDEN
Goaltenders
Name age GP w l T GAA SV% team
KEVEN BOUCHARD   19 20 7 6 4 3.35 .883 MONCTON WILDCATS (qmjHL)
  21 4 13 2 3.97 .872 baie-comeau (qmjHL)
LAURENT BROSSOIT 22 28 15 9 3 2.69 .919 bakersfield (AHL)
EETU LAURIKAINEN 22 14 5 8 0 3.30 .906 BAKERSFIELD (AHL)
8 3 5 0 2.16 .920 HPK HAMEENLINNA (FINLAND)
NIKLAS LUNDSTROM 23 4 1 1 2 3.90 .872 bakersfield (ahl)
13 8 3 0 2.92 .929 ELMIRA (ECHL)
4 1 1 0 2.75 .901 CHICAGO (AHL)
ZACH NAGELVOORT   21 11 5 2 1 2.99 .893 michigan (ncaa)
MIROSLAV SVOBODA   20 1 0 1 0 6.00 .750 TRINEC OCELARI (CZECH)
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