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Oil Kings win WHL Championship

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - The Edmonton Oil Kings are Western Hockey League Champions. It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

A record crowd of 12,514 at Rexall Place witnessed it all happen, as goals by Rhett Rachinski, Tyler Maxwell, Michael St. Croix and TJ Foster propelled the home team to a one-sided 4-1 win in Game 7 of the WHL Championship Series Sunday night.

It had been a while (nearly 24 years) since Queen's 1977 hit ‘We Are the Champions' was played at Rexall Place. And while it didn't happen on an NHL scale, it was a sweet sound nonetheless.

"Unbelievable. You can feel it and you can see it. Look at how pumped we are," said captain Mark Pysyk as he was swarmed by Stephane Legault and Mitch Moroz post-game at centre ice. "Everybody's risen to the challenge. We needed to have our best (game) tonight and everyone brought it. We had some ups and downs in the series, but we came through tonight."

"It's amazing," added Oilers prospect Martin Gernat. "I feel great and all the guys did great today. It's really nice to be here right now celebrating this moment.

"It was an amazing season for me and for everyone. It's amazing."

Another Oilers prospect, Kristians Pelss, was also knee-deep in emotion as the squad paraded the Ed Chynoweth Cup at Rexall Place. Pelss collected a pair of assists, including a helper on the game-winning goal by Maxwell.

"It's incredible. I'm very happy," he said. "We've had a great team all year and it's the best team that I've ever played on. I tried to help the team in whatever way I could."

The Winterhawks gave the Oil Kings all they could handle, pushing the series to Game 7 in a best-of set that saw three separate lead changes.

"They keep you on your heels," said Travis Ewanyk, who was selected 74th overall by the Oilers in 2011. "They're as dangerous as it comes. You don't play against guys like (Sven) Bartschi and (Ty) Rattie -- guys that can make the plays like that everyday. We're going to see them in the NHL one day making those same plays."

"But we beat them tonight," added Pysyk.

Ewanyk, 19, had shoulder surgery in early September, causing him to miss most of the 2011-12 campaign. But he returned in March and was poised to help his club on a long post-season run.

"I knew my whole season would be the playoffs," he said. "I couldn't ask for a better ending than this. I've never been on a better team better than this, so that makes it all the more special."

Calgary Flames prospect Laurent Brossoit was named as the post-season MVP. He made 19 saves to secure the league title Sunday. The 19-year-old gave up a tough goal to Portland's Oliver Gabriel late in Saturday's loss, but it was well in the rearview mirror by puck drop.

"I thought it was our best game of the series," he said. "It's a team game and we won as a team. It's a dream come true. I can't even put it into words about what it's like being put in this position.

"I felt good and thought that I played well last game. One goal wasn't going to overcome all the good things that I'd done. We got back to it tonight and were rewarded for it."

Just 1:51 in, Rhett Rachinski tallied his eighth of the post-season, putting the Oil Kings up 1-0 while the Winterhawks were still without a shot.

Edmonton's opening-period onslaught didn't end there. With 7:59 on the clock, TJ Foster scooped a loose puck at his own line and burst up on a 2-on-1. No. 16 raced in, locked his sights and launched a lighting-quick snapshot that drilled Mac Carruth's crossbar.

Seconds later, the Oil Kings caught iron once more. Over-ager Jordan Peddle unloaded with a slapshot at the line, but the goalie's near side post kept the score set at 1-0.

With only 17.1 seconds to play, another 20-year-old cashed the 2-0 goal. Pelss made a clever backhand dish off the rush, setting up Tyler Maxwell in a prime shooting location. He made no mistake, rifling a bullet past Carruth on the club's 11th shot.

Pelss was back at it 4:41 into the second, setting up another beauty as the home side extended to a three-goal advantage. On a 2-on-1, Pelss delivered a pinpoint pass to Michael St. Croix, who blasted a low one-timer past Carruth.

Just 4:35 later, the Oil Kings buried another. On a 2-on-1 similar to an earlier sequence earlier, Foster barreled in and ripped a snapshot over Carruth's shoulder to make it a 4-0 game. Winterhawks Head Coach Mike Johnston called a timeout moments later, but his goalie -- who, at that point, had only made 17 saves on 21 shots -- stayed in the game.

But Portland wasn't ready to call it quits. Saturday's hero, Oliver Gabriel, needled his way up the middle with speed, split the D and slid a cheeky backhander past Brossoit at 11:40.

Near the third period's midway point, Brad Ross released a point shot that was redirected in -- but it was done so illegally, as a high stick negated the would-be 4-2 goal. It was the right call, and it was as close as the Winterhawks got.

"This is great. It's all about the players right now," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "It wasn't about systems, it was about competing and playing with your heart tonight.

"Our guys did that."

-- Ryan Dittrick,

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