STAVANGER, Norway – The way the Stavanger Oilers keep racking up the Norwegian titles, they might consider changing their name of the city to Stavangest. Three Norwegian championships in a row, four total, fifth straight finals, the Continental Cup win in January and a spot in the new Champions Hockey League surely requires a few superlatives to describe the feat.
The Oilers once again beat Vålerenga Oslo 4-2 in the best-of-seven series. It was third time the teams met in the final, and the Oilers have won all three in 2010, 2013, and 2014. This time the Oilers lost the first game, then won three straight. Their first attempt to clinch the championship failed, but a first-period goal and a perfect game by goaltender Ruben Smith were enough to beat Vålerenga in Game 6.
It was Smith’s third full season with the Oilers, and the third championship. This season he posted an impressive 93.1 save percentage and a 1.83 goals against average in the 16 playoff games, to follow up his league-best 93.5 save percentage and 1.84 GAA in the regular season. That was his best record since 2008 when the Stavanger native also won the Norwegian title with Storhamar.
And when Smith woke up the day after Game 6, he woke up to his 27th birthday as a Norwegian champion.
“I think I gave myself a good birthday gift and I’m very happy with my play. I felt good all day, and it was wonderful to be able to throw the Oilers family such a party. ‘Together we’re strong’ is a good slogan for this wonderful club, the goalie told Aftenbladet.
Jean-Michel Daoust, who finished sixth in regular season scoring with 57 points in 44 games, scored the lone goal with a little over six minutes remaining in the first period. Stavanger won the shots 19-7 in the first period, but in the second, Vålerenga pushed as hard as they could, and even had a four-minute power play. The Oilers defence - and Ruben Smith - could keep the puck out of the net.
“This goal was my gift to the whole Oilers organization and the city of Stavanger, from the people in the office to the fans and all families. Now we’ll celebrate,” said the 30-year-old Canadian who left the Austrian league for Norway for this season.
The Stavanger Oilers are a true rags-to-riches story founded in the late 1990s originally as a team for expatriate Finns who wanted to play hockey in Norway, and played its first original game in 2001. The team went undefeated during their first season - leading scorer Jari Kesti scored 116 goals and 226 points in... 21 games - and didn’t lose a game until the 19th game of their second season. That year Kesti scored 150 points in 36 games.
By their third season, the team played in the top Norwegian division - Kesti scored 63 points in 40 games - and finished sixth.
By then, the story was about to end as the original backer withdrew, and the club didn’t have enough resources to keep on going. Fortunately, Oilers and Tore Christiansen, a millionaire, found each other.
“We want to go to the top, that’s what this is about. I’m convinced that the Oilers will be a good business sooner or later, even if nobody else believes in us,” Christiansen told the Norwegian TV in 2008.
Two years later they won their first Norwegian championship, and by the time the club moved to the new DnB Arena in 2012, Christiansen’s team had already played in three straight finals, and won two of them.
In January, Stavanger won the IIHF Continental Cup as the first Norwegian team, and now, three months later, the team clinched its fourth Norwegian title, and the third one in a row.
“I put my golden jacket on with 1:45 remaining in the game, but when we got a penalty a minute later, I decided to stay in my box,” Christiansen said after Game 6.
And a minute later, he could join his team on the ice. The champions. And with the title, they also got invited to the Champions Hockey League that kicks off in August. That will be a new challenge for the Norwegian club.
“It’s going to be exciting to take on the best teams in Europe. We’re not expected to dominate, but I think we can surprise many teams. We showed in the Continental Cup that we can compete internationally,” GM Pål Higson told NRK.
The Stavanger Oilers are the first club from a non-founding league that got a wild card to play against top teams from major European leagues. The second wild card will go to the champion of the Slovak Extraliga where HC Kosice and HK Nitra play it out in the final series.