The special season ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Edmonton Oil Kings

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The Oil Kings’ season came to an abrupt end with a 4-2 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the final round robin game for each team.

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SAINT JOHN, N.B. — The Edmonton Oil Kings were on a plane ride home from the 2022 Memorial Cup before they could fully process what happened at Harbor Station arena on Friday.

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Their season came to an abrupt end with a 4-2 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the final round robin game for each team. Hamilton finished with three points from a win in the new system introduced before the tournament, while the Oil Kings finished with two from an overtime win two nights before.

A regulation tie would have been enough for the Oil Kings to advance to the semifinals, but they failed to find the tying goal in the third period before the Bulldogs scored an empty net as time expired.

“They’re a super special group,” Oil Kings captain Jake Neighbors said after the game. “Any time you can win a championship, guys always talk about the band you had and the friendships you made.

“It’s a super emotional team in there (locker room) at the moment, we’re a great group of brothers and we’re very proud of each other. It’s been a long season and we’ve been through a lot and that It’s rewarding to get to this point with them, but unfortunately it’s the end of the season.

The Oil Kings were built to win a championship and did so, winning the WHL title, losing just four playoff games along the way.

At the Memorial Cup, they faced two other league champions and a host team, who prepared for the tournament exclusively for 38 days after being eliminated in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs.

Ironically, the Oil Kings played their best game of the tournament against Hamilton but missed a goal as Bulldogs goaltender Marco Costantini had the game of his life and future NHL star Mason McTavish scored the winning goal with a world-class shot.

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“I thought we were in control most of the game and even when they had that two-goal lead, I never lost faith in our group,” Oil Kings forward Jaxsen Wiebe said. “With the odds we were getting, I knew some of them would eventually come in. It’s a tough defeat, but what can you do?

The Oil Kings outscored the Bulldogs 42-36 in the game, dominating the second period and part of the third. The Bulldogs were hampered by the loss of OHL Defenseman of the Year Nathan Staios, who was injured after a hit from behind by Oil Kings defenseman Simon Kubicek.

Either way, another night the Oil Kings will likely win by walking away, but on Friday, in a win-win game, they couldn’t overcome a two-goal first-period deficit.

Missing star forward Dylan Guenther didn’t help. Guenther injured his knee in Game 3 of the WHL Finals against the Seattle Thunderbirds and was unable to play in the tournament. He was a huge part of the Oil Kings offense this season with 13 goals and 21 points in 16 playoff games before being injured.

“With the one-game elimination format like it was (Friday), it’s unfortunate, but it was one hell of a year for our group,” Wiebe said. “I’m proud of us and what we’ve achieved this year.”

The Oil Kings have been among the top teams in the WHL for the past three seasons, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were only able to compete for a championship this year. It’s the first time in three years that the Memorial Cup has taken place and the four-team format leaves little room for manoeuvre.

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The Oil Kings opened the tournament with a 4-3 loss to QLJHL champion Shawinigan Cataractes on Tuesday and followed that up with a 4-3 overtime win over the Sea Dogs the following night.

Just before the start of the tournament, the CHL introduced the new points format along with a three-on-three overtime session in the round robin. Because the Oil Kings won in overtime thanks to Wiebe’s hat-trick, which included the OT winner, they only got two points.

Edmonton finished bottom of the standings, one point behind Hamilton. Saint John and Shawinigan faced off in the final game on Saturday to determine first place and a trip to the final on Wednesday.

“You can look back on our season and there were probably games where we got beaten and we won the game, Oil Kings defenseman Luke Prokop said. “That’s how it goes sometimes, that’s how hockey is.”

It was the last kick in the box for the core of the team with three older players, Kubicek, Josh Williams and Carter Souch graduating, and the eight players drafted from the NHL will likely move on to professional hockey next season.

Guenther, Neighbors and defenseman Kaiden Guhle are expected to play in the NHL next year. Prokop, Justin Sourdif, Sebastian Cossa, Jakub Demek and Jalen Luypen could follow soon after.

It’s possible that head coach Brad Lauer will also move on to pursue professional head coaching opportunities after success with the Oil Kings over the past four years.

“It’s special, a lot of these guys have made it the most fun year of hockey I’ve ever had,” Prokop said. “I’ve made so many memories with these guys, and I thank management for picking me up in Calgary and taking me on this journey.

“I’m so grateful to them and so happy to meet these guys and war with them every day and see the smiles on their faces every day when I come to the rink. It’s going to be hard to let go of this one. »

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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