I always try to keep an air of professionalism when I talk about the Edmonton Oil Kings, but when you invest so much time and emotion into something over the years, spending countless hours in cold rinks, living and dying by the win-loss record of a hockey team–it’s hard to keep it separate. This team means a lot to me, I don’t think there’s any hiding that.

I wrote a post like this last year, too, a eulogy for the season. I talked about the weight of expectations and coming up short and how even though it didn’t end quite the way we had all hoped, it was by no means a disappointment. I felt the same way a season prior–no team should feel like a failure after winning a championship, and I think that’s where my distaste for the Memorial Cup came from. I’ll stand by my evaluation that the WHL Championship should mean more than a Memorial Cup, every time. The Memorial Cup is nothing more than the cherry on top of a magnificent season.

But as I said on twitter, man. It sure is one hell of a cherry.

I’ll be the first person to admit that I didn’t expect this. I didn’t hope for this. That this team wasn’t supposed to be here. This team wasn’t supposed to win the Eastern Conference title, not even in the regular season, let alone the Memorial Cup. This team isn’t supposed to be better than last year’s and certainly not better than the one before that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while watching hockey, it’s that “supposed to” means absolutely nothing.

I’d meant to talk about this season, a summary of moments that maybe could shed some light on how we got to this point. I’d talk at length about the importance of having Curtis Lazar, Henrik Samuelsson, and Griffin Reinhart back for another season. I’d talk about Tristan Jarry proving himself as one of the best goaltenders in not only the league, but the whole country, just like Laurent Brossoit did. I’d sure as hell talk a lot about Mitch Moroz and adversity and doing everything under the magnifying glass of people who were just waiting for him to fail. I’d give a full breakdown of the Portland series, and the moment I felt that this team could win. About what this team taught me about not giving up, not even when you’re down 2-0 in a series and 2-0 in game three.

But really, there’s only one thing to talk about. In my opinion, in my heart, there’s one reason this team made it this far. I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of tears thinking about it, but I should have always known that it would bring them this far.

Pelssy.

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Kristians Pelss meant as much to this team after he left us as he did before. He was a game breaker, and with his speed and skill and tenacity, he made a difference on the ice. That never changed. He continued to make a difference on the ice long after he was gone.

I remember thinking last year during the Portland series that he was exactly the kind of player we needed, that we might be able to win if only Pelssy weren’t off playing pro hockey. We’ll never know if I was right.

A few months later, it felt like the world stopped turning. Pelssy was missing. I refused to believe it, I made friends in Latvia so I could hear the news first, I spent hours refreshing web pages and digging and then finally–confirmation. He was gone.

For months I felt like it was disrespecting him to think of anything else, to be happy when he could never smile again. I didn’t know him, certainly not like the boys did, but the Oil Kings, the community around this team, it’s a family, and it hurt us all. Something about potential and a life worth living being taken away–it hit me harder than I ever could have imagined. It wasn’t my place to mourn him like I did, but I did all the same. To this day I wear a Pelssy band on my arm to never forget what he meant, what this season was all for.

“Play for Pelssy”. And play they did. I should have known, really, that when a team has something like that to play for, when they have a guardian angel pushing them forward and not allowing them to give up, there was no way they could have lost. No way. Some things make a team stronger than the sum of their parts–motivation, will, belief: just a few of the things the Oil Kings had going for them this year.

Words cant express how proud of this team I am. For banding together and overcoming adversity and being the underdogs all season long. For playing for Pelssy and making him proud. It’s been a really special year, and it would have been even if they lost the last game of the season. But hey–they didn’t.

So here’s to the 2013-14 Edmonton Oil Kings, for another magical season. We’ll see you next year.

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