The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/25/14 at 07:12 PM ET
The way the announcers and press played up the rest-vs-exhaustion theme prior to the Edmonton Oil Kings' Memorial Cup-clinching 6-3 win over Tyler Bertuzzi's Guelph Storm, you'd think that the Oil Kings would have no chance given that they defeated Anthony Mantha's Val-d'Or Foreurs via a 3-OT decision on Friday, while the Storm, who won three five-game series while capturing their OHL Championship, hadn't played since this past Tuesday...
But the reality of the situation regarding the Memorial Cup is that it's a single-game elimination situation, and Henrik Samuelsson (2 goals and 3 assists) and the Oil Kings out-skated, out-worked, out-hustled and ground down a Guelph Storm team whose coach, Scott Walker, seemed to believe that the best way to utilize his team's leading tournament goal-scorer in Tyler Bertuzzi was to demote Bertuzzi and his linemates to very, very limited action as a 4th line.
As such, the Oil Kings, who rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, scored 3 second-period goals to stake out a 4-2 lead, and as soon as the Storm made it 4-3 in the 3rd period, Ulf Samuelsson's son and Oilers prospect Edgars Kulda made the Storm's defense look like they were standing still as a give-and-go-and-goal play off a turnover yielded the tournament-winning dagger.
From a Wings-centric perspective, Bertuzzi seemed to have been deliberately handcuffed in terms of the after-the-whistle shenanigans, which dulled his edge to some extent, but he was superb offensively, skating hard, shooting slick shots and nearly tipping in a redirection play early in the 2nd period. The issue for Bertuzzi did not involve effort, intensity, attention to detail, determination or will: he simply didn't see the ice on a regular basis as the Storm basically rolled three lines, and when you've got a player who's scored 5 goals over the course of 3 games, that kind of strategy seems baffling at best.
From a wider perspective, I'm guessing that Storm goaltender Justin Nichols, whose 5'10," 163-pound status yielded being passed over during last year's draft, will get bagged on for "not being there" to make key saves and/or having given up soft goals, but I'd argue that such criticism is patently unfair. Nichols may not be big, but a 6'6," 220-pound goaltender wouldn't have been able to stop 4 of the 5 goals Nichols gave up as his defensemen left their goaltender to his own devices--against tic-tac-toe plays and staggeringly poor at-or-between-the-bluelines breakdowns--far too regularly, and Nichols basically kept the score respectable.
The good news for Tyler Bertuzzi is that his Storm team will still be very good next season, even given that Kerby Rychel is all but a lock to turn pro, and the good news for Bertuzzi is that he's going to return to a deep team that will need the little booger wearing #17 to play more like he did after his neck/head injury than he did before--as a point-per-game player, as an offensive dynamo, and as a leader instead of a "kid" who spends too much of his time backing up his instigating ways with theatrics.
Bertuzzi's going to have to find a better balance between pissing his players off and pissing his teammates and off by acting, because he's going to be expected to spend more time scoring than spending time in the penalty box, and for Red Wings fans, that's a good thing. Bertuzzi has the hands and "wheels" to play as a point-per-game player and 20-goal-scorer in Major Junior (he's not going to score like that in the AHL or NHL, but still), and he's going to have to use his non-piss-off-everyone talents to his advantage next season.
The Storm could very well defend their OHL title and find themselves battling for the Memorial Cup again next year in Quebec City. Bertuzzi will have to help lead them there, and when the disappointment of having not prevailed today fades, he should find ample inspiration to work harder in the gym, to work harder to improve his non-instigating game, and he should also take some time out to be proud of the accomplishments he's earned this past season in both winning an OHL title and having proved everyone who believed that "Little Bert" was nothing more than a one-dimensional "shift disturber" wrong.
There's a whole lot more to BerTWOzzi's game, and he's got to use the disappointment of not winning a Memorial Cup as inspiration for a summer's worth of hard work toward becoming a more complete player and a stronger asset to the Wings when he turns pro a year-and-change's worth of months from today.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.