Photo: Resolute/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
Winning a championship isn’t easy. It is a road full of long hard games, endless battles and mountains of ice bags. Why do teams to it? Because it is so worth it! All the sacrifices, hard practices, workouts and lost teeth are forgotten the second you hoist up a championship trophy.
I was lucky enough to get that feeling the first year I played major junior hockey in Kamloops with the Blazers. It was awesome! We won the Memorial Cup in Laval, Quebec. I still can’t hear Tina Turner’s song ‘simply the best’ without getting all fired up! It is a memory I will never forget.
A byproduct of being on a championship team is the personal success that comes with it. NHL teams love to draft players from championship squads. The year we won the Memorial Cup many of our players were drafted. Nolan Baumgartner (1st round), Jason Holland (2nd round), Chris Murray (3rd round), Jason Strudwick (3rd round), Brad Lukowich (4th round), Hnat Domenicelli (4th round), Mike Josephson (8th round), Bob Westerby (8th round) and Tyson Nash (10th round). Nine players drafted off one team! Crazy!
That doesn’t count players that were already drafted in years prior and afterwards. It was more than 33% percent of the team getting picked in that one draft. Everyone wants winners; it is the beautiful byproduct of team success.
The same can be said for the Oil Kings. Look at how many guys were picked earlier than expected. Griffin Reinhart, 4th overall, Henrik Samuelsson 27th overall and Mitch Moroz at 32. Would they have gone so high without the long run in the playoffs? My gut says ‘No.’
Defending a title is harder than winning it the first time. Not only is it impossible to sneak up on teams but individuals on the team can lose their edge because of the personal success achieved. The individuals on the chasing teams do not lose their edge.
Think of a boxing Heavy Weight champion of the world. It is so hard to keep that title. The champ becomes a little complacent and their edge is gone. The next guys in line are still starving, they want that title.
How does a team keep the hunger and fire burning to defend a title?
After winning the Memorial cup in 1994, we were guaranteed a spot in the 1995 Memorial Cup because we were hosting it. Our coaching staff asked us if we would rather back into the tourney because we were the hosts or kick the door down and go in as WHL champs. Did we want to get into the tourney as the team to beat or be considered a team that was lucky to be in it?
I vividly remember that challenge. It filled us all up with fire for the whole year. That challenge appealed to our pride. We wanted to walk tall in our own town, Kamloops.
It also helped that we had two guys that were draft eligible for the 1995 draft and highly ranked. They both wanted to have the personal success we all had the year before. Both Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan fed the fire.
If I were the coach of the Oil Kings I would appeal to their pride. Yes, they had a successful season last year by getting to the Memorial Cup but there is unfinished business. They need to win the Memorial Cup. That is how they can get the players engines revving!
There is also Curtis Lazar. This young guy is a player and I am sure he will be bringing it every night. The Oil Kings will get some big nights from him. He will want to solidify his draft stock. His energy should be contagious inside the locker room.
Repeating as WHL champs hasn’t happened in nearly twenty years. I think the Oil Kings still have a lot to accomplish as a team. Will they still drop it into that extra gear when trying to defeat a very hungry opponent? Are they satisfied with their junior careers and now looking past this year? How much pride is in that locker room?
We will know these answers next May but I think they have what it takes.