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Long trek, but Oil Kings still in driver’s seat

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During its 100-year history, decisions by the Court of Appeal have created many significant changes in the day-to-day lives of all Albertans.
Brandon Wheat Kings’ Rihards Bukarts takes a tumble as he and Edmonton Oil Kings’ Curtis Lazar chase the puck during Game 4 of their second-round WHL playoff series, Wednesday evening at Westman Place.
Photograph by: Colin Corneau , Brandon SunEDMONTON - The 1,143 kilometre drive from Bran­don to Ed­mon­ton is a long one, re­gard­less of wheth­er you’re in good spir­its or bad.
After a dis­appoint­ing 5-2 loss to the Bran­don Wheat Kings in Game 4 on Wed­nes­day, the Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings did what they could to break up their long haul home, stop­ping Wed­nes­day night in Re­gi­na.
On Thurs­day after­noon, the team was still on its bus, still plod­ding along on its early-spring­time drive through the prai­ries — an end­less tour of Meta­mu­cil brown ter­rain.
If there were ever a time for re­flec­tion on what went wrong and on what could have been — a win on Wed­nes­day night would have sent the Oil Kings to the West­ern Hockey League’s East­ern Conference final — this was it. Head coach Der­ek Laxdal wasn’t see­ing that from his group, though.
“No, it’s fine, it’s just a play­off game that you lost,” he said of his team’s mood on the long trip home.
“You’re up 3-1 in the ser­ies and you’ve got to try to win that fourth game. The guys are fine. They played pretty hard (Wed­nes­day) night.
The Oil Kings were tied 2-2 with Bran­don in the third per­iod, when Wheat Kings for­ward Jens Meilleur scored a short-hand­ed goal that helped his team nab a sea­son-sav­ing win.
“We were right there,” Laxdal said. “We had a pretty good ef­fort from about 80 per cent of our team and we’ve got to get the other 20 per cent on board. That’ll be the goal for (Fri­day).
If they meet that goal, they’ll be back in the con­fer­ence final for the third con­secu­tive year, chas­ing their third con­secu­tive ap­pear­ance in the WHL final. Lead­ing 3-1, the Oil Kings are still in firm con­trol of the ser­ies, but will want to wrap the ser­ies up at home on Fri­day night (7 p.m., Rexall Place) be­fore Bran­don starts to gen­er­ate some ser­ious mo­men­tum.
“I think we know Bran­don pretty good and Bran­don knows Ed­mon­ton pretty good,” Laxdal said. “We’ll see if we can com­pete and bring our best game. Bran­don is go­ing to be try­ing to bring their best game, they’re still fa­cing elim­in­a­tion.
“We played pretty well (Wed­nes­day) night and had a chance to win. We had a lot of good looks. We had a goal in the first per­iod that I thought should have counted (Edgars Kulda’s pow­er play goal was im­medi­ate­ly waved off with a quick whis­tle) but you can’t change those calls. You’ve got to move for­ward. We have to focus on playing our best game (Fri­day) night.
Disci­pline fac­tors to be a big part of that. Laxdal ap­plauded his play­ers early in this ser­ies for avoiding the after-the-whis­tle ac­tiv­ities that a frus­trat­ed Wheat Kings team was try­ing to pull them into. On Wed­nes­day, it was the Oil Kings who were looking for extracurriculars late in the game, un­happy with the un­famil­iar taste of de­feat in the play­offs.
In the final two min­utes of Game 4, Kulda was called for elbow­ing and Hen­rik Sam­u­els­son picked up a rough­ing call, at 18:01. Dysin Mayo was whis­tled for cross-checking Bran­don’s Rihards Bukarts with four se­conds left in the game. Bukarts was slow to leave the ice after his en­coun­ter with Mayo.
“When you’re down 5-2 you’re go­ing to try and set the tone for the next game,” Laxdal said. “Bran­don did that the first three games and I thought our guys took a couple of pen­al­ties late in the game, but it’s hist­ory. You move on and get ready for Game 5.
“Emo­tions are so high in play­offs and pro, jun­ior, min­or pro, it’s the same. These kids are playing for the right to move on. They’re playing to win that game and emo­tions are high and that’s just the com­peti­tive­ness of the sport.
That com­peti­tive­ness is some­thing Laxdal is OK with, though he’d like to har­ness it, to an ex­tent.
“You ad­dress it in every meet­ing. You talk about disci­pline, you talk about playing whis­tle-to-whis­tle and you’ve got to keep on re­in­forc­ing it,” he said.
If all goes to plan for Laxdal’s crew, only one team will be mak­ing that long trek through the prai­ries after Fri­day night.
coleary@edmontonjournal.
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Brandon Wheat Kings’ Rihards Bukarts takes a tumble as he and Edmonton Oil Kings’ Curtis Lazar chase the puck during Game 4 of their second-round WHL playoff series, Wednesday evening at Westman Place.Photograph by: Colin Corneau, Brandon Sun E-mail this GalleryPrint this GalleryShare this Gallery Photo Galleries » More Photo GalleriesOilers bow to KingsThe Edmonton Oilers were easily outmatched by the ...more » Mama-ste: Moms and babies bond...Instructor Alia Wieland teaches the Baby and Me Yoga...more » Masters golf first round tees ...The world's top male golfers tee off on Thursday for...
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