LONDON, ON - The Edmonton Oil Kings can advance to Friday's Memorial Cup Semifinal with a win tonight over the QMJHL's Val d'Or Foreurs.
"Both teams are sitting at 1-1 and there's a lot to play for here tonight, to go to the semi-final and to get home ice for the semi-final is a key part," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal following Tuesday's optional morning skate.
Val d'Or won their tournament opener 1-0 over London last Friday on the strength of 51 saves from goaltender Antoine Bibeau. Last night, they lost 6-3 to Guelph but the Oil Kings head coach felt they played better overall and he expects their best game tonight.
"We've got to play our style. Val d'Or's a big, strong team. They've got some offence there. Even though they lost last night, I thought they played a much better team game than they did against London so obviously they're finding their stride a little bit. For us, we've got to stick to our structure and play our game."
Laxdal hoped to see from his squad a similar effort and performance from Sunday's 5-2 win over the London Knights.
"There were times in the game where London had a push but I thought we recovered well. We didn't have a lot of that D-zone time where we got hemmed in. The one time we did, we took a penalty and they scored in the six-on-five situation. Tonight, we've got to find that level we did when we played against London." AIMING FOR THE SEMIS
The significance of tonight's game wasn't lost on the Oil Kings, who know how big a semifinal berth would be, given that in 2012 the club lost in the tiebreaker game.
"It's a goal in sight and you can look forward to that," said Mitch Moroz. "(But) you've got to focus on the 60 minutes in front of you and don't look too far ahead."
Henrik Samulesson said that the peace of mind that comes with winning tonight along with the rest of not having to play on Thursday would be welcomed.
"It's huge. We got knocked out in the tiebreaker game and that was heartbreaking for us. If we get to the semifinals that will give us a few days to rest and that'll be huge for us because we've played so much hockey in the last few weeks and we need that rest."
SIZING UP VAL D'OR
Being their third game in the tournament, the Oil Kings players have had a chance to sit and watch a couple of their opponent's games in person. They expect a tough test against a skilled team.
"We watched the game against London and had a chance to watch most of the game yesterday," Samuelsson began. "They have a lot of good offensively gifted guys and we're just going to have to shut them down and play a defensively-sound game tonight."
Leading the way offensively is Anthony Mantha, who has 82 goals in 83 games this season counting regular season, playoffs and Memorial Cup.
"He definitely knows how to put the puck in the net. Probably Griffin and Sautner are going to have that task to shut them down tonight. They've been doing a good job shutting down top players all year," Samuelsson continued. "If they can do that, that will give us a better chance to win tonight."
Reinhart talked about that challenge, having successfully shut down Prince Albert's Leon Draisaitl in round one among other challenges this season.
"We know that teams here are going to have good players. We can't put all our attention towards Mantha. Obviously, we've heard a lot about him and a few of us have seen him overseas at the World Juniors. He's a good player and we definitely have to key on him but there's other players who can step up as well so we have to focus on the whole team."
Laxdal talked about the other weapons the Val d'Or squad has.
"There's a few players you have to key on that hockey club. If you look at their back end, Gazzola, Gelinas, Graves are their big point producers. Up front, Mantha can score. He's deceiving. He lies in the weeds a little bit and all of a sudden he has great speed for a big man."
Laxdal added that Guelph did a good job neutralizing the 6'5" Mantha.
"They were physical on him early and we have to have that same formula."