Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal is unlikely to get a friendly ovation from the fans tonight at Brandon’s Westman Place.
Regardless, he’ll feel right at home.
Laxdal, whose club holds a 2-0 lead over the Brandon Wheat Kings heading into tonight’s third game of the WHL Eastern Conference semifinal on enemy ice, has some unique and heavy ties to the province and the Brandon area in particular. The 48-year-old is a native of Stonewall, Man., and played with the Wheat Kings in the mid-80s.
“I played there for three years and had a lot of success there as an individual, and we had a pretty good team my 17-year-old year there, with Cam Plante and guys like Ron Hextall and Ray Ferraro,” Laxdal told Rob Henderson of the Brandon Sun. “We probably didn’t go as far as we would have liked to (losing in the Eastern Conference semifinal), but we had a pretty good hockey club.”
In addition . . .
“I’ve got a lot of friends in Brandon, my wife’s from Rivers and my daughter goes to school in Brandon (at Brandon University). My family’s close in Stonewall, and I still know my billet in Brandon, so it’s always special coming back.”
Wheat Kings fans won’t be rolling out the welcome mat, not with their club down two-zip in the best-of-seven set and in dire need of a win to keep their already slim hopes alive.
First and foremost, the Wheaties have to discover a scoring touch that went missing during the first two games in Edmonton where the Oil Kings prevailed 5-0 and 3-0. Edmonton, heavily favoured to not only defeat Brandon but also capture the conference title, outshot their opponents 102-44 at Rexall Place.
So, for starters, the Wheat Kings have to find a way to test Oil Kings netminder Tristan Jarry on a more consistent basis.
“(The Oil Kings) work extremely hard,” Wheat Kings scoring leader Jayce Hawryluk told Henderson. “They are a good team. They’re not a hundred-point team in our league for nothing. … We’ve just got to play fast, play hard and just keep throwing pucks on net.”
Brandon GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon is hoping the presence of home ice will revive his shooters.
“(Playing at home) gives us confidence,” he said. “For us it kind of, I don’t know, lowers our confidence a bit maybe, playing on the road, and we have a tough time finding the back of the net. And I think in Brandon we do a good job at scoring goals.”
l Red Deer products Collin Valcourt and Graeme Craig were never selected in the NHL entry draft, yet both are in the pro ranks following the conclusion of their WHL careers.
Valcourt, who played four seasons of major junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs, Saskatoon Blades and most recently the Prince Albert Raiders, has signed with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. The Heat are the No. 1 affiliate of the Calgary Flames.
Craig, meanwhile, has inked a deal with the AHL Oklahoma City Blazers, the Edmonton Oilers’ top farm team.
Valcourt, a six-foot-two, 216-pound forward, has played one game with the Heat, while Craig, a six-foot-five, 202 pound defenceman, has yet to suit up with the Blazers. Craig suffered an injury late in the WHL regular season stretch which caused him to sit out a tie-breaker win over the Red Deer Rebels and the first three games of an Eastern Conference quarter-final loss to the Oil Kings.
Craig did play in Game 4 of the four-game Edmonton sweep so presumably is healthy enough to play if needed in OKC.
l Former Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mathew Dumba and his Portland Winterhawks took on the host Victoria Royals Monday night already owning a healthy 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.
Dumba, who often struggled defensively with the Rebels, has been a nice addition to the Portland blueline after being acquired in December and then returned to the junior ranks by the Minnesota Wild in January.
Not only did the offensively-talented rearguard chalk up 24 points in 26 regular-season games after joining the ‘Hawks, his plus/minus ranking was an impressive plus-31. Pro-rated over a full season, he would have been Portland’s top player in that category.
Dumba has carried his steady defensive play into the playoffs. In six post-season contests prior to Monday’s outing, he led his team in the plus/minus category at plus-10 and had contributed two goals and seven points.