Future looks dazzling for homegrown player

Ecstatic: Curtis Lazar of the Edmonton Oil Kings raises the Memorial Cup Sunday night, May 25 in London, Ont. - Aaron Bell/CHL Images
Ecstatic: Curtis Lazar of the Edmonton Oil Kings raises the Memorial Cup Sunday night, May 25 in London, Ont.
— image credit: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

By Kevin Mitchell,
Black Press

Curtis Lazar’s perma grin was undoubtedly even wider when he returned home to Vernon last weekend.

The 19-year-old centre might, however, be suffering from writer’s cramp after the MasterCard Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings were toasted last Wednesday at Sir Winston Churchill Square. They rode into the party in the back of trucks and some Oil Kings played ball hockey with fans. Lazar never got near a stick.

“There were roughly about 2,000 fans and they had a mini parade for us and we went on stage for speeches,” said Lazar, who wears a smile 24-7. “I did two- and-a-half hours of autographs. It was mainly the die-hard fans who I have signed for before so it was nice to win the Cup for them.”

Lazar, a Salmon Arm Minor Hockey product,  made Memorial Cup history with his triple-overtime snipe Friday night in a 4-3 semifinal win over the Val-d’Or Foreurs. It was the longest game in tournament history at 102 minutes 42 seconds.

The Oil Kings completed a spectacular season by stopping the favoured Guelph Storm 6-3 Sunday before 8,863 fans at the Budweiser Centre in London, earning their first championship title in modern seven-year franchise history.

“It feels amazing,” said the 6-foot-200-pound Lazar. “We’re the top Junior hockey team in Canada and it’s one of the hardest trophies to win in hockey. And the way we won, it was pretty special. It was a quick turnaround because we said our goodbyes today. What we were able to accomplish was unbelievable.

“Nobody gave us a chance to do anything this year, but there was never any doubt in our dressing room. We were confident and even when we were behind, there was no panic. We just kept grinding and let nature take its course. Now, it’s the Oilers’ turn.”

Lazar received hundreds of texts and tweets after his overtime goal and the final win. The Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick heard from Sens’ alternate captain Chris Phillips and Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.

“I got so much support, just little things that don’t go unnoticed.”

The Oil Kings finished first in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with 50 wins and 103 points before winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions in a thrilling seven-game series over the Portland Winterhawks to return to the Memorial Cup for the second time in three years.

Lazar, an alternate captain, received the George Parsons Memorial Trophy as Most Sportsmanlike Player in the tournament. He said the Oil Kings thrived on being resilient all year – they were down 3-2 in the Portland series. He had 22 playoff points.

“We were so used to playing in one- and two-goal games and we believed in each other. I’ve never been on a such a tight and close team. We truly played for each other.”

His Major Junior career is likely over, and it rushed by like the wind.

“It just seems like yesterday I was a 16-year-old kid in Shawinigan. I feel privileged to be in two Memorial Cups when lots of guys never get to play in one.”

An all-star with fourth-place Canada at the 2014 World Juniors in Sweden, Lazar has added serious value to his NHL stock.

“I went to my first NHL training camp and at the World Juniors, I think I really established myself as a top prospect and I just kept it going, trying to prove that I’m a 200-foot player.”

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