Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Fair

90°F

Portland

Fair

Humidity: 29%

Wind: 13 mph

  • 20 Sep 2014

    Sunny 89°F 64°F

  • 21 Sep 2014

    Sunny 88°F 59°F


Oil Kings dedicate WHL title to former teammate

After the Edmonton Oil Kings fought off a fierce, late push by the Portland Winterhawks in Game 7 Monday, they celebrated their second Western Hockey League championship in three years.

Once the final buzzer sound, Oil Kings players threw their sticks and helmets in the air and gathered together for a good old-fashioned group hug, celebrating memories, perseverance and the short life of a fallen teammate.

Left wing Mitchell Moroz said the team is as close during the day-to-day grind as it was during its celebratory embrace.

“We’re a group of guys that have an incredible bond and love for each other," Moroz said, after the 4-2 victory at Moda Center. "We’re so close. I mean, it was just a group effort in general. We wanted it, and we won it.”

After relinquishing a 5-2 lead in the third period of Game 6 at Edmonton, the Oil Kings fought off the urge to let the emotionally draining experience overtake their spirit.

Coach Derek Laxdal said the staff tried to provide words of encouragement to sponsor positivity before the game.

“I said I can guarantee that the sun is going to come up and I can guarantee that the energy is going to come up," he said. "We were trying to motivate the kids all day with speeches and analogies, and they just kept on pushing.”

However, the Oil Kings players have been motivated all year to commemorate the death of former player Kristians Pelss.

Last year, Pelss drowned in the Latvian River while visiting his hometown in Riga, Latvia.

“His jersey is in the locker room, so a few of us who knew him really well give him a couple taps each time we go out,” center Reid Petryck said.

Oil Kings goalie Tristan Jarry added: “We wanted to bring it (the championship) back home for him. He won it for us, and now we wanted to win it for him.”

Petryck said Pelss may have even provided a little help from above.

“I know he’s up there watching us right now, and he gave us the power and strength to help us win this," Petryck said.

The victory provided former Winterhawks player Laxdal another fond memory at Memorial Coliseum.

“To come back here and win a championship renewed some memories. Honestly, it was a flashback,” Laxdal said.

The Oil Kings coach won the 1983 Memorial Cup with the Winterhawks, contributing nine assists and four goals on the season.

“I told the boys I won a Memorial Cup here in ‘83, I wanted to win another championship and they came through,” he said.

The key to the series, in the eyes of Moroz, was thwarting the Winterhawks' prolific offensive attack. Portland's top four forwards — Oliver Bjorkstrand, Brendan Leipsic, Nicolas Petan and Taylor Leier — scored just three goals in the seven games.

“We knew what they were — a run-and-gun offensive juggernaut," Moroz said, "but if we keep those guys up front outside, they are not going to be too dangerous. We were willing to give up those shots from the point and outside and it worked out."

Moroz said because of the Oil Kings' physicality, Portland’s playmaking forwards didn’t have open space on the ice.

“Everybody was throwing their body. Everybody pushed. Everybody just played their part,” he said.

Though Laxdal acknowledged that his team lost 10 players and wasn’t projected to sniff the WHL finals, he, as well as his players, said veteran leadership put the Oil Kings over the top.

“We weren’t picked to probably get a round or two, but our leadership has been outstanding," he said. "You look at the guys in our dressing room, that is a team. They are as solid as a rock.”

Moroz added: “We have a core group of guys who’ve been in this situation before. And even the guys who were just in the finals last year really stepped up.”

Moroz couldn’t articulate his happiness after winning the title.

“It’s amazing," he said. "I don’t really have words right now. Just trying to soak it up. It’s surreal.”