Montrose native Luke Bertolucci and the tireless Edmonton Oil Kings upset the Guelph Storm 6-3 to win the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup in London, Ont. on Sunday.
“It feels fantastic,” Bertolucci told the Times upon his return to Edmonton Monday. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet to be honest with you, but it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
For Bertolucci and the Oil Kings it has been a whirlwind month. After coming back to win the Western Hockey League championship against the Portland Winterhawks in Game 7, Edmonton stumbled through the Memorial Cup round robin with a 1-2 record that included a 5-2 loss to undefeated Guelph to open the tournament and a 4-3 double overtime setback to Val-d’Or Foreurs to close out the prelims. Edmonton’s only win came against the London Knights, 5-2, thanks to two goals from Bertolucci.
“We made it hard on ourselves for sure, but you know we’ve been underdogs this whole time and I think we kind of took advantage of that and made that motivation.”
Edmonton’s run to the Cup was a marathon in many ways. Two weeks before winning the trophy Sunday, they blew a three-goal lead at home in Game 6 of their WHL championship series. The Oil Kings had to travel to Portland, Ore., the following day to win Game 7 less than 24 hours later. Their triple overtime semifinal win over the Val-d’Or on Friday was the longest game in tournament history at 102 minutes 42 seconds. Add in a double overtime loss to the Foreurs in the preliminary round and the Oil Kings had played the equivalent of two more games in the tournament than Guelph heading into Sunday’s final.
Despite the loss to the Storm in the preliminary round, Bertolucci says the team was confident going in.
“We weren’t favoured to win by any means, we kind of just took that as motivation. We had those games against Val-D’or, I think they kind of prepared us and even the series against Portland when we were up and had to hold a lead. Even going into that third period when we were up and they scored that goal we knew we had to remain calm and just stick to what we do.”
In Sunday’s final, Henrik Samuelsson scored two goals, including an empty-net goal, and added three assists. Tournament MVP Edgars Kulda had a goal and two assists and Edmonton also got goals from Cody Corbett, Tyler Robertson and Mitch Moroz.
Edmonton trailed 2-1 after the opening period, but went to their seemingly bottomless reserves to score three unanswered goals in the second period. Guelph pulled within a goal at 3:23 of the third when Zack Mitchell swatted in Kerby Rychel’s pass from the behind the goal-line. But Edmonton restored the two-goal lead at the five-minute mark on Samuelsson’s give-and-go with Kulda. Moroz and Robertson would close out the scoring with a pair of insurance markers, as netminder Tristan Jarry made 32 saves for the win.
“It was unbelievable, the guys on the bench were so excited, the coaches were pumped, it’s just a great feeling, and we’re just really blessed to be on this team,” said Bertolucci.
But it was the play of unsung heroes like Bertolucci and his high-energy line with Riley Kieser and Mads Eller that made the difference. The Bertolucci line is a fast, hard-working, defensively responsible group that often can cycle and forecheck well enough to hem strong opposing attackers in their own end.
It was checking that led to the speedy Bertolucci’s key insurance goal early in the third period against London in the round robin, and it was his goal on a breakaway in Game 5 of the series against Portland that is roundly regarded as the TSN turning point in the Oil Kings resurgence.
“That (the playoffs) is my favourite time of year, you know, I love it,” said Bertolucci. “It’s all about the team and anything I can do to help out I can. I’ve been very fortunate to play on a great line with Mads Eller and Riley Kieser, and I’ve been blessed with this team, so I just kind of taken advantage of that. But it’s all about the team and they really help me out.”
Bertolucci is a former Kootenay Major Midget Ice player who won gold with Team BC at the 2011 Canada Winter Games. He played in the BCHL with the Trail Smoke Eaters in the 2011-12 season. His progress has continued unabated since, and while many questioned the five-foot-eight forward’s jump from the Smokies to the WHL at age 17, his choice was apparently the right one.
“They (the Oil Kings organization) treat them with such respect,” said mom Sheila Bertolucci. “It is amazing. It starts absolutely at the top. They look for character kids, but that’s because they are character. As a parent that has a child who goes away, he was in the best hands.”
Many of the three-year veteran Oil King players found inspiration in the memory of Latvian teammate Kristian Pelss a member of the 2012 Memorial Cup runner up team that passed away. For Bertolucci, however, his motivation came from thoughts of a friend much closer to home.
“With the passing of Nolan Hanley, I dedicated my playoffs to him,” said Bertolucci. “I know he was looking over me that whole time, and I have to give him credit for that and wish his whole family the best.”
Bertolucci will return to Greater Trail for the summer and looks forward to making another run at the Memorial Cup next season with the Oil Kings.