Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins and Captain Andrew Ference teamed up with a Canadian triathlon legend to compete in the corporate sprint relay race at the ITU 2014 World Triathlon Series at Hawrelak Park in Edmonton.
The pair of Oilers partnered with their long-time friend Simon Whitfield to complete the three-sport event. Whitfield is a four-time Olympian who won gold in Sydney (2000) and Silver in Beijing (2008).
“I’ve gone out to some of his races, I’ve trained with him in Victoria and have gotten to know him very well over a number of years,” Ference said. “He’s a great competitor. He’s taught me a lot about nutrition, recovery or just going out and raising the bar with training and stuff.”
Ference first met Whitfield over a decade ago and the two have remained good friends since. Eakins has also been friends with the triathlete for quite sometime. Being able to compete with Whitfield on Sunday was “an honour” for Eakins.
“Simon and I have been friends for a long time now and I know Andrew has developed a relationship with him too. It’s always interesting because you forget who your friend is sometimes. He’s a great ambassador for Canada and we’re proud to be on the same team supporting this great event today,” Eakins said.
Whitfield started off the race with the 740 metre swim. Ference followed Whitfield with the 20 kilometre bike ride and Eakins wrapped the race up with a 5 kilometre run. The head coach drew the short straw as he was the last to respond to the email from Whitfield setting up the event.
“I jumped on the bike as soon as I could because I didn’t want to run so Dallas had to run,” Ference said.
Eakins finished the race strong for the team, who was the first trio of participants to cross the finish line. They were bested only by a solo athlete -- Paul Tischler -- who just so happens to be an Olympian.
“It was interesting coming in and being in the lead because there were so many switchbacks out there,” Eakins said. “The guys seem to be closing in on you and you’re just in a panic. It’s like you’re being hunted. I probably ran faster than I should have and I’ll probably pay for it tomorrow but that’s okay. It was a lot of fun being a part of this.”
MacTavish didn’t hold back when speaking about the high potential of Schultz and what he could possibly become someday. The most bold statement was perhaps the following.
“I think that Justin has Norris Trophy potential and I don’t think there are too many people who would disagree with me in that regard,” he said.
The James Norris Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL defenceman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability throughout the season.
That’s high praise for the 24-year-old, who heads into his third season with just 122 NHL games under his belt.
The 2014-15 season is a big one for Schultz as he tries to earn himself a long-term deal. But the Oilers clearly view him as an important piece of the club’s future.
“He is right in the mix with the most important guys on our team, there is no question about that,” MacTavish said.
Like the rest of the Edmonton Oilers, the 2013-14 season didn’t get off to the best start for Justin Schultz. Admittedly, Schultz saw room for improvement at the start of the season. But as the year wore on, Schultz came around defensively to the point where there was a noticeable improvement in his game.
Schultz says that it wasn’t only him who saw personal improvements but the team improved overall in the defensive category as well. It’s a finish to the season that Schultz hopes he and the Oilers will build off of.
“Defensively, the start of the year was a little rough for me and the team but I thought as the year went on everything improved. Our team was improving. We obviously didn’t finish the way we wanted to but it was a good finish for us and hopefully we build off of that and start strong this year,” Schultz said.
The RFA has agreed to terms with the club on a one-year contract.
RFA defenceman Justin Schultz has agreed to terms with the Oilers on a one-year contract. In doing so, Schultz has the opportunity to prove his worth this season on the road to a longer term contract. That makes the 2014-15 season a big one for the 24-year-old blueliner.
This season, the main area of his game he wishes to improve upon his on the defensive side of things. He was -22 last season and cites plus-minus as a number he wishes to improve.
“I want to be a plus player,” he said. “Improving my plus-minus is something that’s going to come with being better defensively. Also, having a better team game and winning more games. Hopefully we get off to a good start and build off that.”
“I knew it was going to get done,” he said. “I didn’t want to drag it on into training camp and be a distraction. I wanted to get something done, they were the same way and it worked out well.”
Schultz is happy with the term of the contract, citing his need to prove himself more at the NHL level as the reasoning behind the one-year deal.
“I think we are both pretty happy in getting it done, having this drag on. I’m happy with the contract. I obviously have to prove myself more to get a longer term. Hopefully I have a good year this year, the team does better and we’ll get it done.”
Martin Marincin, 22, got a taste of NHL action last season, playing in 44 games for the Oilers. Now heading into training camp he knows what the coaches expect from him.
Even having already played on the team, Marincin feels like he still has to continue to work even harder to make the roster this year. He is no different from any other defenceman.
“I am like every player now,” Marincin said. “I was playing in the NHL last year but that’s nothing for me though because I need to work hard every day. There are lots of new guys and new defencemen so I need to be working hard and we’ll see after camp.”
Getting bigger and stronger was an emphasis for Marincin this summer. He says he has gained five pounds during the off-season.
His one goal now is to make the Oilers team out of camp and then take the season from there.
“Right now it is to make the NHL. First make the team and then we’ll see.”
Martin Marincin couldn't have scripted last season much better from a personal standpoint.
The 22-year-old defenceman got just about all the experience he could ask for, playing in 44 NHL games, the Olympics and the IIHF World Championships (both representing Slovakia).
Marincin was even praised at times for being the Oilers “most solid defenceman” by his head coach and his growth on the ice did not go unnoticed. As Marincin continues to develop, he can look back on last season and be grateful for the experience he gained.
“That was a big season for me,” he said. “I played everywhere so that was great for me. I learned a lot of things so it was good for my hockey life. Now I need to keep working hard and keep going to be the best.”
While playing internationally at the Olympics and World Championships, Marincin learned even more. He watched the established veterans around him to try and learn things in addition to what the NHL had already taught him.
“I was just looking around me at these guys and what they are doing. I was trying to learn on the ice and in the locker room and everything.”
After being selected 40th overall in 2009, Anton Lander has played 94 NHL games. He has also spent time in the American Hockey League, posting his best offensive numbers to date last season (18-34-52 in 46 games).
Lander cites physical growth along with more confidence as to why last season he saw more success in the AHL.
“I think I’ve been getting stronger and a little bit quicker on my skates and of course, the confidence,” he said. “You get used to the leagues and that was a huge thing for me, to get used to the different leagues and different teams. I think when you’re coming back from another year and you’re more used to the players, coaching and the organization that it helps you with everything. I don’t know if I can point to one thing as to why things have been going better but that’s my feeling right now.”
Lander’s next step is to translate that success from last year to the NHL level. He says his play in 27 games with the team last year left him feeling like he has more to offer. The path to prove himself starts in training camp.
“I got a lot of big opportunity from (Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins) but I wanted to play a lot better than I did. That’s something that’s been bugging me during the summer and something I want to prove when camp starts.”
The Oilers inked centre Anton Lander to a one-year contract extension this off-season and the 40th overall pick in 2009 is excited for the opportunity to return to Edmonton.
Knowing that this is a big training camp and season for the 23-year-old, Lander has set goals for himself and it’s all about winning hockey games.
“I want to win as many games as I can. I want to win, I want to be a better player and of course my first step is to make the team here in Edmonton. From there, it’s all about winning,” Lander said.
This year’s training camp provides Lander with an opportunity to prove to the club that he is ready for full-time NHL duty. Lander is coming off of a season in which he scored 52 points in 46 games with the Oklahoma City Barons and skated in 27 games with the Oilers.
“I’m really excited about the camp. The only thing I can do right now is work really really hard to get better and to show at camp, just go out there and try to do what I can do best to help the team win games. That’s what it’s all about.”
The pressure is on for the Oilers to have more success this season. Jordan Eberle said this summer that “more so this year than anything I think we have a lot of expectations on us.”
Taylor Hall mirrored those sentiments when speaking with Oilers TV at the Perry Pearn’s 3-on-3 Camp on Thursday. Hall says there is no starting over when you play hockey in this city.
“In Edmonton, there’s never really that clean slate. There is always pressure on us,” he said. “I like that, I’m excited for that and I’m ready to get back to that. It is a quiet summer back in my hometown and you come here and everyone is excited for the season. I think everyone on our team knows last year was not good enough and hopefully we’re all willing to improve on that.”