(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion – June 11, 2014)
The past month was a whirlwind for Ashton Sautner. From a historical game seven finish to double and triple overtimes, the Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman has nearly seen it all on his venture to the Memorial Cup.
Now, after his most memorable season as an Oil King, Sautner is content with rest, and helping with renovations on the family home in Flaxcombe.
The Oil Kings won the Memorial Cup in thrilling fashion with a 6-3 victory over the Guelph Storm on May 25 in London, Ont. It completed a WHL playoff and Memorial Cup run where many thought the Oil Kings would falter early.
“It was a season that I’ll never forget. In my three years with the Oil Kings it’s definitely number one,” Sautner said. “It was special and do to this as underdogs and with the group of guys we had made it even more special.”
In order to reserve their spot at the Memorial Cup the Oil Kings needed to win the WHL Championship, the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Oil Kings swept the Prince Albert Raiders, and were 4-1 series winners over both the Brandon Wheat Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers to set up a WHL final that mirrored the previous two years. For the third season in a row, the Oil Kings would face the Portland Winterhawks.
In 2011-12, Sautner and Oil Kings defeated Portland in seven games and finished fourth at that year’s Memorial Cup – Sautner’s first taste at the national championship. The following season Portland took the 4-2 series win over the Oil Kings and advanced to the Memorial Cup final.
This year, Portland jumped to a quick 2-0 series lead at home before Edmonton battled back with 3-2 and 2-0 victories on home ice to even the series. The Oil Kings squeaked out a 3-2 victory in game five and had the opportunity to win the WHL Championship on home ice.
In game six Edmonton built a 3-0 lead in the first period, including an assist by Sautner, and held a 5-2 lead heading into the final frame. However, the opportunity for a hometown celebration was waning as Portland scored three unanswered goals to tie the game and forced game seven with an overtime goal. However, Sautner and his team knew what traits they needed to win game seven.
“Perseverance and resilience,” Sautner said. “Hopping on the plane and heading back to Portland was pretty devastating when we had to play another game after being so close to winning. To go in and win game seven was unbelievable and to continue that resilience heading into the Memorial Cup.”
The Oil Kings made history on May 13 when they became the first team to win the WHL final on the road in game seven. Portland opened with a goal in the first, but four second period goals were enough to win the game 4-2 and hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
“To get our energy and get refocused for game seven and winning that one was unbelievable. It felt like such an accomplishment for our team to come back and win that one,” Sautner said.
It wasn’t the last time the group needed to dig deep. Edmonton played two overtime games to pave their way to the Memorial Cup final, both against the Val-d’Or Foreurs. In the round-robin Val-d’Or needed two overtime periods to win 4-3 over the Oil Kings, but the best was yet to come.
On May 23 the two teams met again in the semifinal and topped their previous efforts by going one extra period. Edmonton’s 4-3 triple overtime win was the longest game in Memorial Cup history and left Sautner and the Oil Kings with barely one day to recoup and prepare for the Guelph Storm in the Memorial Cup final, the team who had beaten them 5-2 earlier in the week. At that point the Storm were well rested and hadn’t played a game since May 21.
“We knew to win the Memorial Cup we’d need to have a gutsy effort, one similar to [game seven of the WHL final]. Going into that tournament a lot of people were saying Guelph was similar to Portland, so we knew we’d have to play that gritty game and wear them down,” Sautner said.
The Storm cruised to a 3-0 record in the round-robin and were the favourites on paper. Thankfully for Sautner and the Oil Kings, the game of hockey is played on ice. Guelph took a 2-1 lead heading into the second period before three second period goals by the Oil Kings (including an assist from Sautner) elevated Edmonton to a 4-2 lead. The Oil Kings held onto the lead and walked out of the game as 6-3 victors, and the 2014 Memorial Cup Champions. The Oil Kings were the first WHL team to win the championship since the Spokane Chiefs hoisted the trophy in 2008.
Both the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup have special tales for this Edmonton Oil Kings crew. But Sautner will always remember raising the Memorial Cup over his head in Budweiser Gardens.
“It’s one of the hardest trophies to win in hockey and knowing we were national champions was something special,” Sautner said. “Winning a second WHL championship was amazing, but to win the Memorial Cup and be the best team in our nation was a little bit more special.”
Since the victory, Sautner and his team have been honoured with a parade in downtown Edmonton, celebrated with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, and parted ways with his team for the off-season. Now he’s able to relax, and help out with renovations on the family home.
“Coming back from a year like that you’re still riding a high so when it hits you, you drop off and get tired all of a sudden and really wear down,” he said.
But when the renovations are done and Sautner’s body and mind have relaxed and re-cooperated, his mind will go back to hockey. The 20-year-old will enter his final year of eligibility with the Oil Kings hockey club and he’ll focus on shutting down offenses across the league and try to contribute points when he can – tasks he has gotten better at with every season. Sautner posted career highs in points with 42 in the regular season and 12 in the WHL playoffs.
With veteran blueliners Griffin Reinhart and Cody Corbett aging out of the WHL, Sautner will be among the oldest in the defensive group and will be expected to guide the team with his experience at two Memorial Cups.
“I think I can take that experience and use it for our younger guys coming in, similar to other guys who will have to step up and take that leadership role,” Sautner said.
But for now, Sautner will focus on the three R’s: Rest, Relaxation, and Renovations.