Watch above: The Edmonton Oil Kings are back in action Friday, but life on the road is starting to take its toll. Quinn Phillips explains.
LONDON, Ont. – Among the subplots of the Memorial Cup semifinal between Val-d’Or and Edmonton is No. 8 versus No. 8.
The Edmonton Oil Kings want defenceman Griffin Reinhart on the ice when Anthony Mantha is Friday.
With last line change as the home team, the Foreurs will attempt to spring their 82-goal man for a shift or two without the mammoth shadow of Reinhart.
“It’s Crazy Eights, right?” Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal said. “It’s going to be a challenge for Griff and it’s going to be a challenge for Mantha.”
The MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal is a rematch between the Quebec and Western league champions who went to double overtime Tuesday.
After 81 minutes 15 seconds – the sixth-longest-game game in tournament history – it ended 4-3 for Val-d’Or on Anthony Richard’s breakaway goal.
READ MORE: Foreurs win marathon to gain semifinal
The semifinal victor faces the unbeaten Guelph Storm in Sunday’s final. The Ontario Hockey League champions did the Oil Kings a favour, but not the host committee, by eliminating the London Knights and preventing a tiebreaker game.
Reinhart and Mantha were teammates on Canada’s junior hockey team this year and are both first-round NHL draft picks.
Mantha was the 20th overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings last year. The New York Islanders selected the six-foot-four, 215-pound Reinhart fourth overall in 2012.
“They’ve got last change so we’ll see how much I end up playing against him,” the Oil Kings captain said.
“I like the challenge. I know him a little bit from world juniors and it will be fun for both of us I think.”
Mantha didn’t score Tuesday, but assisted on captain Samuel Henley’s third-period goal that pushed the game into overtime. The six-foot-five, 204-pound Mantha dug the puck out from the boards to Richard, who dished to Henley.
“To be honest with you I think Mantha played a pro game the last game,” Foreurs coach Mario Durocher said. “He was physical, even if he didn’t score. But he got some points by making passes. He was first on the puck. He was able to play the physical game.
“Reinhart is a big guy, a strong guy and I think Tony needs to use his speed. He (Mantha) battled against him so I’m happy the way he played the last game.”
Guillaume Gelinas participated in half of Val-d’Or’s practice Thursday before heading to the dressing room. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s top-scoring defenceman suffered a “knee contusion” versus Guelph and wasn’t able to play in the game against Edmonton.
Gelinas felt he was ready to play, but Durocher was more cautious about the prospect.
“For sure if he’s 50 per cent I’m not going to put him in there, but if it’s more than that we’re probably going to … depending on how he is, the way we’re going to put him on the ice is going to depend on how good he feels,” the Foreurs coach said.
“For the last two years, he’s played against the best line, played power play, played penalty kill, so he’s a one-two punch guy for us. It’s quite important to have him with us.”
Val-d’Or has relied heavily on goaltender Antoine Bibeau this tournament to bail out their porous defence. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has faced 136 shots in this tournament.
He stole a 1-0 win from the Knights to open the tournament with a 51-save shutout. After falling behind 2-0 early against Edmonton, the Foreurs wormed their way back into the game on Bibeau’s 47 stops, including a penalty-shot attempt by Edgars Kulda.
“We think he can win a game by himself and this is what you need during playoff time and right now this is what he’s doing.” Durocher said.
But the Val-d’Or coach spent Thursday’s practice emphasizing more support of the defencemen by the forwards and increased protection of the slot.
The Oil Kings intend to outwork Bibeau this time.
“We can take confidence from our quick start,” said assistant captain Curtis Lazar. “We were up on them early. We really pressure them and found success especially below the goal-line. We’ve got to solve their goalie. That’s going to be a big storyline.
“We’ve worked hard to get to this point. We’ve got to enjoy it, but we’ve got to capture this moment as well.”
READ MORE: Edmonton Oil Kings at the 2014 Memorial Cup
Lazar and Reinhart are among half a dozen Oil Kings veterans who lost in the Memorial Cup tiebreaker two years ago to host and eventual champion Shawinigan.
The QMJHL has won three straight Memorial Cups. The Spokane Chiefs were the last Western Hockey League team to claim it in 2008.