The Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings are about to begin their quest for the Telus Cup. But, the road to Prince George was anything but easy for the Midget AAA team. The Oil Kings finished third in the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League season with a 14-15-5 record. From there, the team went on an impressive run through the AMHL Playoffs, claiming the Midget AAA Provincial Championship. They now find themselves ready to compete for a national title.
Ahead of the Telus Cup, Oil Kings Assistant Coaches Darin Wood and Colby McClachlan penned the following letter about their team of destiny:
The Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings aren’t your typical Cinderella story.
Expectations were high coming out of the gates with new coaching staff, four returning players, and a very well-rounded batch of incoming players.
With a tough schedule to begin the season, they got off to a mediocre start, playing to a 4-6-0 record in the first month. Goals were hard to come by, and under new systems and philosophies, there was a sharp learning curve to adjust to. Adding to the adversity, Carson Lux (one of four returning players, and team Captain at the time) got the call to take the step up to Drayton Valley in the AJHL.
November was more of the same, with offensive woes being the story, and the team’s record fell to 6-10-1. But the month was not without its ups, with Dillon Hamaliuk returning to the team after a late roster move by Seattle in the Western Hockey League. With the Macs Midget AAA tournament in Calgary looming, and with a goal that was set early in the year to play in the Macs, December was a turning point in the season. The Oil Kings started finding their stride.
Improving to a 3-1-2 record for the month (9-11-3 for the season), and boosting their offensive efforts, they solidified their place in the Macs.
With the Macs Tournament being a goal early on, the Oil Kings knew the competition was stiff and they had to raise their level of play. Great leadership and the close-knit nature of the club helped guide them to a 2-1-1 record in the tournament, narrowly missing the playoff rounds. But, a disappointing result for a very well-played tournament didn’t hinder the resilient group heading into the home stretch of the season, and with a newfound belief in the ability of the team and its potential, the Oil Kings finished the season 5-4-2 (14-15-5 overall), good enough for third place in the North Division.
The preliminary round of the playoffs was a hard-fought battle with the MLAC Beverly Optimists, where both games ended with a one goal differential, one of which was in overtime. A well-balanced attack, and a solid penalty kill was the story in the series, with 11 different players finding the score sheet, and going a perfect 9-for-9 shorthanded. Breydon Berthold led the way with two goals, including the series-winner.
The early series sweep added a lot of confidence to the group as they moved into the second round against the St. Albert Tire Warehouse Raiders. A typical second-seed vs. third-seed battle, the series took all five games to decide, with four one-goal games, two of which went into extra frames.
Exceptional resiliency (all three wins were come-from-behind) and penalty killing was once again the story for the series, allowing only one goal on 17 attempts, and adding a shorthanded marker. This set the stage for the North Division final against the top-seeded Sherwood Park Kings. A hard fought series from the start, which ended in two of three games requiring extra time, saw Easton Hesse assert himself as the leading playoff goaltender, stopping 113 shots in the three-game series, including a 49-save effort in the double-overtime game two. Once again the penalty kill group went a perfect 11-for-11 in the series, en route to a three-game sweep.
Heading into the provincial finals against the CFR Chemicals Bisons, it was clear that this team started seeing themselves as a force to be reckoned with, and with two key injuries on the blueline, they were put to the test. With a game one victory thanks to another 24 save performance by Hesse, and a perfect 4-for-4 penalty kill night, the series came home to Leduc with the Oil Kings up one game to none. Three lead changes, eight different goal-scorers, and another 3-for-3 penalty killing performance later, the Oil Kings found themselves in their sixth overtime game of the playoffs. Tyler Smithies buried his fifth goal of the playoffs, and Brendan Morrow went 100% in the faceoff dot to give LJAC a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Game three was nothing short of spectacular, as both teams exchanged prime scoring chances, and exceptional goaltending. The game went into overtime for the second time in a row, and seventh time in the playoffs for the Oil Kings. A phenomenal slap pass/deflection goal kept the Bisons alive, and for the first time, the Oil Kings had a chance to lock up a series at home. LJAC made history March 26, as they clinched game 4 in front of family and friends.
Their heart, evident by a 5-2 record in overtime, an earth-shattering seven wins coming from behind, and 98% penalty kill effort was the difference in the post season, which saw them go 11-3 overall. Even with their backs up against the wall, they stayed positive, focused, and poised. They played for each other, were accountable to each other, and never gave up on anyone wearing the crest. Other teams may have walked into the dressing room going into overtime exhausted, and sore, and used that as an excuse to shed 1% of their effort, but not this group. Some may have used a heartbreaking overtime loss as an excuse to point a finger in blame, or try and change the game plan. But not this group. Stats aside, it took 23 players to win the league. 23 unwavering efforts. 23 hearts and 23 souls. Some call it a “Cinderella Story”. The LJAC Oil Kings call it hockey.
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