If there's a time for humour in the Edmonton Oil Kings' locker room, it might just be during this winning stretch of theirs, similar to last season's, but one that ended in disappointment.
Starting goaltender Laurent Brossoit might be the first to tell you that he struggled on the national stage last May. He had an .871 save percentage during the tournament and allowed six goals in the first two periods of the Tiebreaker game.
This morning, last season's Western Hockey League playoff MVP took to his Twitter account and channeled his inner @strombone1, posting an Instagram photo of him after having allowed a goal during last season's MasterCard Memorial Cup:
But that appears to be behind Brossoit now, as the Oil Kings again look poised to win the WHL's Eastern Conference and will probably match up against the Portland Winterhawks in the final for the second straight season. Edmonton, going into Friday's game in Brandon, are 40-11-2 on the season, 13 points up on second-place Calgary and 20 up on East Division leading Prince Albert.
The Western Conference is a little more competitive, but the Oil Kings are blowing away their Eastern opposition. During their current 10-game win streak, they've out-scored their opponents 53-11 while goaltenders Brossoit and Tristan Jarry have four shutouts between them. It's a run similar to last year's, when the team caught fire in a bottle between February and mid-May, hitting a 22-game win streak into the third round of the playoffs.
Goaltending has obviously been a big part of that.Brossoit is a selection of the Calgary Flames, and he's had the distinction of some of his roughest performances being live of national television. Tristan Jarry is the third ranked North American goaltender behind Zachary Fucale and Eric Comrie who is out with a season-ending injury.
When Brossoit turns pro next season, there's little doubt Jarry can pick up the workload. Already at 21 games this season after playing 14 times a year ago, Jarry leads the WHL in both goals against average and save percentage. Brossoit, though, is still the teams' starter having played just 38 times this season, but after his poor Memorial Cup and rough outing in the Canada-Russia challenge in the summer, Brossoit also shook off his September struggles and is playing back at the top of his game again.
Ever since Brossoit came back from Canadian junior camp in Calgary where he was cut from the squad and Steve Spott decided to take three Ontario goalies to Ufa, Brossoit has posted a .954 save percentage and a 1.25 goals against average with a 14-2 record and four shutouts. Jarry has gone 7-2 with a .947 save percentage, a 1.45 goals against average and four shutouts as well.
But Brossoit's numbers are nice to see. There's a lot of discussion about the way Brossoit handles pressure, but as it turns out, his struggles between May and October in a stretch that included the Memorial Cup and a poor outing in the Canada-Russia summer series is put to rest. His career save percentage has markedly improved over the course of this season (not to say I told you so!):
Brossoit started the season with a .910 career WHL save percentage. That's now up to .913 and he's gotten on a couple of hot streaks this year. The hot and cold streaks are easy to visualize from the blue line that jumps up and down, representing LB's save percentage in his last ten outings. Him and Jarry certainly benefit from an excellent structured Oil Kings defence that allows few shots and clears rebounds, but a lot of goalies at this level who see 30 shots routinely see something go wrong. Not the ones who are pro-quality and can shake off rust and the bad games behind them.
And there's humour in it too, obviously. Brossoit is a calm player off-ice who is willing to let the past be the past as far as his Memorial Cup play goes. A lot of players only get one chance, but the Oil Kings were a young team last time around and have kept the same contingent of scorers, most of their defence, and both elite goaltenders. A second Cup appearance in Saskatoon isn't a guarantee, but it's a good possibility that Brossoit will be able to extend his excellent junior hockey career just a little bit longer.