Rourke dropped right in the middle of Battle of Alberta
“I like to consider myself a solid two-way. Especially coming up here it’s defence-first mentality. Don’t get beat in our zone. I try to play the body when I can but body positioning comes before body contact. That’s the way it’s going to be tonight,” said Rourke from the team’s Calgary hotel on Saturday afternoon.
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish says that Rourke has given himself some good advice.
“Good self advice. Just play within yourself. It’s really the same advice we give all the other defencemen back there: just be in predictable spots. We’re not expecting brilliance out of him or anybody else back there,” said MacTavish. “Just go back and play the game and make the right decisions. A lot of times the first decision is the best decision. Advance the puck as best you can.”
In Springfield, Rourke ranked first among defenceman and fifth on the team overall with seven points in 12 games (three goals, four assists). He also added six penalty minutes. He plays his 43rd career NHL game tonight and first as a member of the Oilers.
“I’m excited. Obviously a little bit nervous, too but that comes with the territory,” he said. “The biggest thing is I’m excited to play. I haven’t been up this year. It’s been awhile since I played a game in the NHL so I’m ready to go.”
Last season, Rourke suited up for 11 games with the New York Islanders. He was acquired from New York this past summer along with a third round choice for a second-round pick originally sent to the Islanders in the Bergeron/Grebeshkov trade.
Ironically, Rourke will be playing alongside Grebeshkov to start tonight’s game. The two were paired together on the Island and also in AHL Bridgeport during the 2005-06 season. MacTavish was impressed with how the two looked together during Friday’s practice.
“I like the way he moved the puck. He has a little bit more professional experience than Bryan Young,” MacTavish remarked. “Bucky says he’s been playing fine down there. We needed a defenceman and hopefully he’ll give a little bit of experience.”
Young had a rough start in each of his two games and was unable to play with any confidence as a result. He played one shift versus the Avalanche and was on the ice for a goal against. MacTavish hopes the 27-year-old Rourke plays with more composure.
“Hopefully he gets off to a good start. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s particularly nervous,” stated the head coach. “He’s been killing penalties down there and blocking shots. Hopefully he’s able to step up and play 10 minutes for us.”
Rourke is ready to accept whatever role he’s given tonight.
“They’ve had a lot of injuries to key guys and guys have come up but whatever it is for me, if it’s 10 minutes or one minute I have to be ready right from the get-go,” he said.
As a veteran, he’s been called upon to be in a leadership role on the Oilers’ AHL affiliate.
“We have for the most part a pretty young team down in Springfield. There are only three veterans with myself being one of them. I guess when I was young I looked to the older guys to lead the way. I’m a guy who tries to lead by example, I don’t talk a lot.”
Rourke’s previous stints in the NHL were with Carolina – 25 games in 2003-04 – and the New York Islanders – 17 games spread over two seasons. Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round, 154th overall, in 1998, tonight is his first experience playing in the Western Conference.
“I’ve never been out in the West. This is my eighth year professional and the whole time I’ve been in the East so I don’t really know the difference between the East and the West. I guess we’ll find out tonight.”
Rourke also noted that he was excited to be playing against the Calgary Flames.
“It could be the biggest rivalry in the league. I’m excited to be a part of it and hopefully we can get two points out of it.”
Playing in the East, Rourke’s point of reference is the New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders rivalry.
“That was exciting, too. I think I played two games in Madison Square Garden. Every time you go there the fans are yelling at the key players, the goalie and the big guys on the team right when you get off the bus. That was a big rivalry.”