Oil Kings ready for Memorial Cup opener, taking on hosts

Coach Derek Laxdal says that just because the Shawinigan Cataractes have been idle for a month it is no reason for the Edmonton Oil Kings to take them lightly.

SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Coach Derek Laxdal says that just because the Shawinigan Cataractes have been idle for a month it is no reason for the Edmonton Oil Kings to take them lightly.

Western Hockey League champion Edmonton will kick off the 2012 Mastercard Memorial Cup tournament on Friday night against the host Cataractes, who will likely get some of the rust jarred out of them from the noise of their home fans at the Bionest Centre.

”We know Shawinigan is a good team,” Laxdal said Thursday as the coaches from the four teams in the 10-day tournament met with the media. “They’ve got a deep back end and a lot of speed up front.

”I know they didn’t have the playoffs they wanted, but they had a good season. And they’ll have the crowd behind them. It’ll be an outstanding game.”

The Saint John Sea Dogs, gunning for a second Memorial Cup in a row, open Saturday night against the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights.

It promises to be a first-rate event as three teams — Saint John, London and Edmonton — reached the Memorial Cup after winning their regular-season titles, while Shawinigan finished second in the QMJHL to the Sea Dogs.

All four are ranked in the top-5 in the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella organization for the three major junior leagues. Saint John is rated first, London is third, Edmonton fourth and Shawinigan fifth. Only second-ranked Tri-City did not reach the Memorial Cup.

Shawinigan was ousted from the playoffs on April 17 with a Game 7 loss to Chicoutimi in the second round. They’ve had one exhibition game and lots of practices since then.

”After what happened a month ago we had to put a plan in place to take advantage of the situation and get ready for the Memorial Cup,” said coach Eric Veilleux. ”I can assure people that every player will be ready.”

The teams play a round robin through the first six days, with the second and third place finishers facing off in a semifinal on May 25. The final is on May 27. There is only one game per day and all games start at 7 p.m. ET.

Edmonton, where the Oil Kings were revived as an expansion team in 2007, is headed by scoring leader Curtis Lazar and Canadian junior team rearguard Mark Pysyk.

It also has two projected high picks for the NHL draft in June in Griffin Reinhart and Henrik Samuelsson.

They are the sons of both former NHL players Paul Reinhart and Ulf Samuelsson, while defenceman Keegan Lowe’s dad is former Oiler Kevin Lowe. Forward Michael St. Croix’s father Rick is a former NHL goalie.

The Oil Kings are coming off a Game 7 win over Portland in the WHL final.

Shawinigan’s main strength is defence, where the pairing of Brandon Gormley and Morgan Ellis is among the best in junior hockey. Michael Bournival and Kirill Kabanov lead the attack.

The Knights got a boost when their former coach Dale Hunter, rejoined them after the Washington Capitals were knocked out of the NHL playoffs by the New York Rangers. His brother Mark Hunter took over behind the bench when Dale went to Washington in November. Mark will coach in Shawinigan, while Dale is to act as an advisor.

”It’s going to be nice having him with the team again,” said Mark Hunter.

”Hopefully he’ll help us win some games.”

The Sea Dogs dominated the QMJHL last year and carried that through to become the first Martimes team to win the Memorial Cup.

Despite missing key players for extended periods during the season, they were just as hard to beat in 2011-12, losing only once in four rounds of playoffs.

”It’s the experience thing,” said Sea Dogs defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. ”When a couple of us were gone, other guys would step up.”

Coach Gerard Gallant has a relatively older squad with 10 players who have been drafted by NHL teams, including Montreal first-rounder Beaulieu and Florida’s third-overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau.

Forward Charlie Coyle, who joined the team in mid-season from Boston University, was named playoff MVP. His line is backed by the gifted unit of Zach Phillips, Stanislav Galiev and Tomas Jurco.

”We’ll come in an play hard and have some fun,” said Gallant. ”We know it’s going to be a battle.”

Beaulieu is from London but joined Saint John when his father Jacques moved there to coach, before being dropped in favour of Gallant in 2010. Jacaques Beaulieu now coaches the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. The 19-year-old admits it will be a little strange playing against his home town team.

”I grew up watching them,’ he said. ”They’re a great team.

”I was there when they won (the Memorial Cup) in 2005. They were my favourite team growing up. I always wanted to play for them. But now they’re not high on my list now.”