WHL Championship moments, Calling All Hockey Fans, Ten random thoughts and Any Given Sunday.

PHOTO: Andy Devlin

I have mentioned before that one of the amazing things about working in the game of hockey is that you are privy to some amazing moments.  By the time two teams have battled their way to the top of their respective conferences – there is no question they have earned their stripes as one of the WHL’s elite.  After nearly two months of the playoff grind the two teams who find themselves in the WHL final are usually so evenly matched that, it’s a cliché, but the smallest mistake could be what costs you the championship.  Like Coach Tony D’Amato (played by Al Pacino) tells us in his famous speech from “Any Given Sunday”:

“You find out that life’s this game of inches. So is football. because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small.”

When you look back at a playoff run you can always remember these particular moments… Times when a great save, a blocked shot or a huge goal was the difference between going home or moving on.  In 2008, I was lucky enough to see a number of these amazing moments en route to the WHL Championship series… Only to see a couple of these same types of moments swing the other way as my Hurricanes fell 4-0 to the Spokane Chiefs.
In 2012, I was the only one cheering in an empty media room in Portland as Rhett Rachinski tallied an OT winner to stun the Rose Garden and tie the WHL Championship series at 2-2.  That goal gave new life to an Oil Kings team that was up against the ropes and was a huge turn en route to the 2012 WHL Championship.  This of course had an exclamation point involving Oil Kings Captain Mark Pysyk that is highlighted in a story by Chris O’Leary and that I promise to revisit in the future.

I watched Michael St.Croix post an amazing Game 5 OT winner to stave off elimination in the 2013 final.  I was literally sharing space with two National Guards, a couple members of the Rosebuds dance team, a slurry of Oregon media, the Ed Chynoweth Cup and Winter Hawks P.R. guru Graham Kendrick.  After a heart-wrenching game tying goal by Brendan Leipsic the room exploded with cheers and activity as Portland anticipated the trophy presentation.  Let me just say, I was once again the only one cheering (lightly) when I saw Stixy (St.Croix) gather his own blocked shot and bury one top shelf on Macmillan Carruth.  This was followed by a heartbreaking Game 6 as Ty Rattie provided his own series changing moments with a pair of shorthanded markers.  Both of these moments can be seen here in a pair of episodes of a mini web-series called “Defend the Throne” shot and created by videographer Nyki Scheuerman – Both are great pieces of media done by one of the industries best and well worth the viewing. Episode 3 / Episode 4

Back to my story… Tonight as I watched Game 3 of the 2014 WHL Championship – I am pretty sure that myself and fewer than 7,000 fans at Rexall Place bore witness to one of these moments.   Midway through the second as the Oil Kings trailed 2-1 in a pivotal Game 3 – Luke Bertolucci found himself behind the Portland defense.  The 5’8 forward undrafted forward took a shot from behind by highly touted Minnesota Wild prospect Matthew Dumba and fell to the ice.  Bertolucci was able to right himself, stay in stride and have the presence of mind to make a nice backhand tuck past Portland goaltender Corbin Boes.

It was nothing short of inspirational.  Here you have a bottom six forward, well undersized and being chased by one of the best defenseman in the WHL – and through pure will he managed to tally a key goal when the Oil Kings needed it most.

Bertolucci created his own moment.

Edmonton would go on to take the game 3-2 on the strength of a game winner by Eddy Kulda and some spectacular saves by Tristan Jarry in the final frame.  But if the Oil Kings are to turn things around in this series it will undoubtedly be the efforts of Bertolucci (Berto as the boys call him) that we look back on as THAT moment.  Here is the video with the highlights… See for yourself – it just could be a series changer.

P.S. – I couldn’t get away without having one little rant… I am going to come out and say what a lot of people are too scared to in the hockey industry… If you’re a legitimate hockey fan in Edmonton you really have NO excuse to not be at Game 4 tonight.  For the third season in a row the Oil Kings and the Winter Hawks are playing the most significant games to be played at Rexall Place since the Oilers unlikely 2006 Stanley Cup run.  This is a heavyweight match up between two teams loaded with NHL talent and battling for the opportunity to play for the greatest prize in junior hockey (and arguably the hardest championship in sport to win) – the Memorial Cup.  I realize that this is an Oilers town and that we have a lot of fans of “Oilers Hockey” and I don’t blame people for that.  But if you’re not interested in this game tonight and you are one of those fans who call themselves a “fan of good hockey” you need to give your head a shake.  It’s not a huge investment and as an Edmontonian I think it’s about time for the City of Edmonton to prove me wrong.  Either that or simply stop calling yourselves “Hockey” fans and say it like it is… You’re Oilers fans. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Hockey is meant to be seen live and in person and I for one am sick of Edmonton claiming to be a hockey town yet not showing nearly enough love for Major Junior and Junior B.  Bottom line, if you come out to one Oil Kings game this year make it this one.  I can promise regardless of the result you will not be disappointed with the level of compete, heart and battle these young men show you.

I will now finish things up with my 10 Thoughts… Cut back from the standard 15… See how this is going?
1.    Welcome to the next level… Blackhawks vs Wild:  This series looked like it was going to be a landslide and then I went and jinxed it.  Minnesota looked wildly outmatched until last night’s debacle in Minneapolis.  But I still believe this thing is over in five as I had predicted.  When you think about it, if the Wild lose Game 4 they are right back where we thought they were.  More than anything I still think Patrick Kane’s unbelievable “Showtime” goal really highlighted why the Wild are going to lose this series.  Like the Blackhawks they have a very balanced attack and some great star power in Parise and Koivu.  But I think they lack that X-factor… Granlund is looking like he could be that player for them but to me Kane is a force to be reckoned with.  He always comes up big during big games.  I think some players are just born with that natural compete level where they want the game on their stick.  If you didn’t see the goal I am talking about… click here it’s SHOWTIME!

2.    My official picks for the second round that I made last week – I am being honest here as you can see by my pick of the Anaheim Ducks…
Chicago in 5 over Minnesota
Anaheim in 7 over L.A.
Boston in 7 over Montreal
Pittsburgh in 6 over New York

3.    One last thing before we say goodbye to the first round that was… Have to say goodbye to #LumbusThis video they made as a thank you to their fans really captures a lot of the good stuff you remember from any playoff run you may have been lucky enough to be a part of.  I don’t know, I think it’s great to see that kind of passion and energy shared in a place where they may have not had that kind of success before.  Like the Oilers of 2006 who were really an entire generation away from the Oilers previous playoff success.  Moments like that don’t come around often and it was nice to see a place like #Lumbus really latch on to that.   They may not have won the series but they definitely inspired a lot of new fans and made the NHL landscape stop and take note – if only for a brief moment… This of course is an excellent segway into…
4.    The Toronto Raptors giving me a reason to watch basketball again.  Wow.  To the city of Toronto I have to applaud you and your fans.  (Something I so rarely do because of my hatred of the Leafs) but seriously, you managed to carve out a place for Jurassic Park on the NBA map.  You were able to embrace your name for the first time and truly be proud to call yourselves Raptors fans.  Hopefully, this notoriety will allow you to continue to hold on to key talent like Kyle Lowry and maybe even attract some other key pieces to push this team to the next level.  But to me like Columbus – getting to a Game 7 against a veteran laden Brooklyn squad then going out on the final play of the game had to be seen as a victory unto itself.
5.    On a side note to conclude my Raptors talk… Did anyone else notice that after Lowry had his shot blocked and he fell to the floor everyone on his team turned and walked away from him?  I noticed… Because Demar Derozan turned back to help pick up his boy after missing probably the biggest shot of his career.  Derozan then followed that up with some great comments post0game about being able to sleep easy knowing they went out on that shot.  This is the same guy who Lowry probably should have dished to when he found himself triple covered on that final play.  I think part of it is that Derozan sees the end game and he knows that it may take a little extra to keep Lowry in Toronto.  But more than anything I like to think it’s just Derozan being a professional.  I hope he stays in Toronto for a long time because he seems like that heart and soul kind of leader.

6.    I am not going to go on about it too long as I think it will be something that will remain an ongoing topic… But I have to say kudos to Adam Silver on his handling of the Donald Sterling matter.  The message from the league was clear and he was perfect in his execution and delivery.  His press conference was P.R. 101 on how to handle a crisis situation and I think just as we would have berated him had he made a mistake we should all give him a pat on the back for this flawless performance.  Other commissioners should really take note.
7.    For those wanting a laugh you have to check out these two amazing videos… The first is a montage someone put together of Ilya Brygalov interview clips… The second is an article with video clips of Kerry Fraser bringing the hammer and laying down the rules as they pertain to the Mighty Ducks. (The movie).  Yes, you read that second one right.  Both are spectacular… As a side note to Ilya Bryzgalov I was told from some inside sources that for a brief period following his diatribe on HBO – he started to sign his crested jerseys with the moniker “Mr. Universe”.  It was only crested jerseys he would sign it on and it was only for charity.  But that is a collector’s item that would be awesome for any fan.  More important to my comments I think it definitely puts Bryz in my all time beauties list with the video above making him a shoe-in for the top 5.

8.    For those really wanting a laugh you should know that I have actually started a legitimate workout plan.  The evolution of my weight has gone from 170 lbs. when I was in University to a slightly beefed/fattened up 180 lbs. when I moved to Lethbridge to a larger 185 lbs.  I then moved back to Edmonton to my current state of 195 lbs. and some clothes that don’t fit.  At my worst I tipped the scales at 200 pounds during the 2012 WHL Playoff run but I have managed to slowly get my weight on the comeback trail.  Now I am really pushing it to get back to 180 by the end of this summer.  I will be sure to let everyone know of my progress along the way.  This also gives me a chance to give a shout out to the good people of BioSteel for hooking me up with some free swag to go with my last order of Protein… I now count myself with the Zach Boychuk’s and Jim Steacy’s of the world – just a lot fatter and no where near as strong.

9.    Speaking of physical feats of strength… You need to see this clip of a High school recruit from Texas who throws a football to himself Mr. Perfect style.

10.    Finally I want to wish good luck to the Edmonton Oil Kings tonight as they look to regain their footing in what’s been a wild 2014 WHL Championship so far.  Also a shout out to two future show guys Travis Ewanyk and Dave Musil who I ran into on the concourse fresh off a season in OKC.  It always boggles my mind how much these “kids” grow in just one year of pro hockey.


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