Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Knights, Oil Kings face must-win MasterCard Memorial Cup game

LONDON, Ont. — So much for experience, eh? The teams that have Memorial Cup experience are both 0-1, eliminating the repeat of another four-way tie after four days.

The world can turn over on a team very quickly at the Canadian Hockey League championship, so actually, experience probably counts in a different sense than one might have framed. The Edmonton Oil Kings and London Knights each face a semi-halfway desperate hour on Sunday, with neither wanting to fall to 0-2. Only the 2009 Windsor Spitfires of Taylor Hall fame have lost their first two games and recovered to win the tournament.

Edmonton gave up the lead Saturday on an own goal in the second period when Mads Eller's clearing attempt ricocheted off the Guelph Storm's Kerby Rychel and into the net. The miscue — "it happens, it was a lucky bounce and we were able to regroup," captain Griffin Reinhart said — wasn't the ultimate determining factor since Guelph won going away, 5-2. It was also just a trifle compared to coughing a three-goal third-period lead in a potential championship clincher, which Edmonton did last Sunday and still beat the Portland Winterhawks anyway.

"I can tell you it wasn't as bad as it was after Game 6 against Portland," Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal said of the post-game dressing room.

"This is a huge game coming up," Laxdal added. "We're 0-1, London's 0-1, we're trying to get that first win. You just need to get one [in the round-robin] to get to the semifinal, then the final and go where you want to go."

That crux of the Memorial Cup, which can also vex a few fans, is that the first few days are only a prologue. A team's standing can also switch very suddenly. The Knights, playing in their third tournament in a row and having the cushy host-team schedule with no back-to-back round-robin games, have experienced the blunt end of it. They finished first in the round-robin in 2012, then had four days off before the final, where they lost 2-1 in overtime to Shawinigan.

Losing another low-scoring game to a Quebec League team? Been there, done that. London's 2012 experience also drove home the point that starting 1-2 and playing the tiebreaker isn't the end.

"The older guys know that and we've been telling the whole team, it's not bad losing the first game," 19-year-old forward Josh Anderson said. "We got the nerves out. There's not as much pressure on us now. We're the underdogs in this tournament now

"Shawinigan did it our first year there. They went on to win the championship."

Most of London's nucleus — Anderson, captain Chris Tierney, NHL first-rounders Max Domi and Bo Horvat — were part of the past two Memorial Cup teams.

London left wing Gemel Smith was a 16-year-old with the 2011 Owen Sound Attack, who shut out Kootenay 5-0 in their opener. The Attack lost their linchpin, Joey Hishon, after he suffered a brain injury after being drilled with a headshot by Kootenay's Brayden McNabb. The depleted Attack lost their next three games and were the first team to go home.

"They know how quickly it can slip," the now older and wiser Smith says. "You can't really dwell on this first game. You can end up being the first seed in this and losing. They know it's a short tournament and you got to put it behind you.

"We're just going to try to out-will, out-skill 'em," Smith says of Sunday's tilt.

2012 Oil Kings 'approached it the wrong way'

Edmonton's regret with its 2012 Cup trip stems more the approach it took than the actual outcome, where it lost the tiebreaker to Shawinigan and was the first team ousted. Several frontline stars — high NHL picks Reinhart, Curtis Lazar, Mitch Moroz and Henrik Samuelsson — were either 16 or 17 at the time. The emotional high of capturing a WHL title for a franchise then in only its fifth year of existence was too seductive.

"We approached it the wrong way," recalls Reinhart, a New York Islanders first-round pick. "We were too content and satisfied with the WHL championship. We didn't take this tournament seriously. We treated it like an all-star game. You don't really realize it until two or three weeks after that you missed out on a great opportunity."

Playing back-to-back will be a challenge for the Oil Kings. But veteran teams have the capacity to recover quickly.

"When you're 16 to 21, you're young adults but old teenagers," Reinhart adds. "That's part of junior hockey, being able to recover quickly. The older guys we have, they've all learned that over the past two years from going to NHL camps and to camps with Hockey Canada and USA [Hockey] in Samuelsson's case."

London is 0-3 in the second leg of back-to-back games at the past two tournaments. Understandably, they believe the day of rest will bestow some advantage.

"We came out with a little bit of rust and the nerves are out of the young guys," Anderson said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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