THE TEAM TODAY: Training Day
Oilers veterans assemble at Rexall Place for medicals, interviews & more
TRAINING DAYThe Edmonton Oilers’ 2011-12 season got underway Friday morning, with veterans reporting bright and early to complete medicals, promotional shoots and more at Rexall Place.
For several returning players, it was a reunion. 2006’s go-to trio Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky all donned Oilers shirts, reminding everyone that the new Oilers will be a balanced, past and present mixture of wide-eyed rookies, skilled sophomores and seasoned veterans.
“I went back and I was sitting beside Ryan Smyth and Josh Green,” the captain laughed. “In Smytty's case, he's always been such a great Oiler.
“He's so excited to be back and we're excited to have him. He's going to be a great addition to the locker room and on the ice as well.”
Ales Hemsky, who during the Oilers’ 2006 playoff run, scored six goals and 17 points in 24 post-season contests, couldn't hide his smile either. He’s naturally excited to see his ex-linemate, the man who helped orchestrate such success that spring, back in orange and blue.
“It's nice to see a guy like that back,” he said. “I've got great memories with him. He's a guy we've missed for a long time, with the type of player he is. He'll be a good for us.”
Smyth, acquired via trade with Los Angeles earlier this summer, said there’s a new energy in Edmonton, fueled by the team’s more optimistic outlook.
“The whole locker room has changed,” he said. “There's a lot of different staff and a lot of different faces. It's all good. I'm really excited to be back and be in the mix again. I think there's a tremendous upside here.”
Having worn an ‘A’ in his earlier tenure, Smyth has seen and done plenty throughout his career, including the 12 seasons he spent with the Oilers.
“I don't want to come in and change things,” he said. “I want to come in and be a part of something special. I believe there's something really special here with these young kids and with the experience I've gained in the past, I can mentor these guys along the way.
“That's the experience that I've gained in the past; going through some tough years at the start of my career as an eighth seed and playing Dallas and Colorado every year.”
The captain will play a similar role, having skated deep in the spring with Smyth and Hemsky several years ago. Experiencing all that post-season action entails, there’s an endless knowledge-base worth passing on.
“When you get to the Stanley Cup Final and do well and have success, you know you can play at the most important time of the year,” Horcoff explained. “That's a big step for a player, and we need to help these kids get there as soon as possible.”
That, as you’d expect, means expectations will be that much higher heading into the 2011-12 season (rightfully so, under the circumstances).
“I think a realistic goal for us has to be trying to make the playoffs,” Horcoff added. “The only way to develop these young kids, getting them to the next level and making them better players, is having them play in the big games; they have to play in the important games in March, and sometimes in February.
“Once you go past each round [in the post-season], there are different levels and you learn how to deal with a higher level of pressure. That's how you push yourself to become a better player and gain confidence.”
Smyth couldn’t agree more, adding that the team’s outside expectations are being mirrored in the locker room this season.
“We’ve got nowhere to go but up,” he said. “That's all we want as a team, is an opportunity to make the playoffs and let things happen from there.”
The Oilers’ dynamic trio could potentially be reunited at camp, but the players are still reveling at the team’s established and up-and-coming depth up front.
“I haven't thought about it too much,” Horcoff said. “We've played together for many years and we're very comfortable with each other. I don't know how much they'll test that in camp. We’ll see what happens.
“I'm excited about the depth we've got this year. It's going to be good. We're a lot deeper and we're still a young team. Where we're going here is super exciting.”
AT THE MORNING SKATEFollowing yesterday’s practice at Prospera Place in Kelowna, the Oilers bussed to Penticton, settled in and prepared for the team’s upcoming clash with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Oilers’ game day routine began with an up-tempo morning skate at the nearby South Okanagan Events Centre, where all games will be played during the 2011 Young Stars Tournament.
OKC Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson and his crew ran lines yesterday, but made a few changes heading into tonight’s contest. 11 forwards and seven defenceman will dress tonight, constructing the following line combinations:
Hamilton - Nugent-Hopkins - Pelss
Cornet - Lander - Rieder
Czerwonka - Martindale - Tyrvainen
Smith - Abney
Marincin - Musil
Musil - Fedun
Gernat - Lowery
Olivier Roy will start in goal tonight. The 20-year-old netminder will be turning pro this season, and he wants to make sure that a strong impression is made prior to main camp.
“What I want one day is to play with the Oilers,” he said. “There's no doubt about that, I really want to be a part of that group. They've got a pretty young group coming up and they're going to be a great, great team really soon in the future and even next year.
“In hockey, you never know what happens so I'm going to take this year, do what I can do, and hopefully all the best will come to me.”
Roy had the opportunity to represent Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship this past January. He struggled at times, posting a 3.57 goals-against average and .875 save-percentage in three games in which he amassed a 2-1 record.
“It was a great experience no matter what happened in the end,” he explained. “To play in an NHL rink was great, it was packed. Representing my country was a dream for me and having the chance to do that was awesome. We missed the gold by one period and that's never easy.”
In regards to tonight and facing the Canucks in another packed house in Penticton, Roy is calm and generally reserved, but quietly excited to do his thing and make a mark.
“I’m really looking forward to the game,” he said. “I’ve played in a couple before, but getting this opportunity is unique. It’s a big year for me and I need to show the organization that I’m there for them. I’ll start with tonight’s game.”
While eyes will surely by on the Oilers’ No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tonight, there’s certainly more to the story. On the team’s second line, Anton Lander will centre Philippe Cornet and Tobias Rieder in a secondary scoring role.
Judging by work late in today’s session, the trio will get an opportunity to shine on the power-play, to which Cornet described as “an exciting chance.”
“We’re doing really well,” he said of the line’s chemistry. “We’ve never played with each other before, but we’ve adapted so quick. Playing with such high-quality players like that helps, too. Hopefully we'll have some good chemistry tonight and score some goals.
“All three of us speak English, so we've done really well communicating. We're all pretty intelligent players, so we'll know where to be and how to find each other out there.”
Rieder agreed, adding that he was “surprised” to see how quick they’ve come together.
“I think the chemistry is really good,” he said. “I don't know why we've adapted so quick with each other. It was pretty surprising, but I think we're all good players and we're going to do well together.
“I'm going to try and bring good passes and quickness to the game. I think I'm a good offensive player; creating chances up-ice is going to be my key to success. We'll see what happens, I'll try to do my best out there tonight.”
The coaches pushed the pace this morning, but the players pushed right back–even harder. The energy inside the locker room is high and Coach Nelson and others are thrilled to see such enthusiasm this early in camp.
“I think there's going to be a lot of energy tonight from both teams,” he said. “You can tell by the morning skate that guys are really excited.
“They're eager to get things going and I expect a very high pace tonight from both teams. The guys are ready to go and we're going to have some fun tonight.”
Nelson also noted that it appeared to be a calming energy running through this year. Last season, nerves ran rampant, but the 2011 edition is a more veteran-laden squad, helping guide the team’s prized youth in a pressure-packed environment.
“We have some guys that have been here before, and I think that's played a calming presence for the new guys. I'm sure there are going to be a few nerves, but for the most part they seem very comfortable right now.”
Cornet is one of them, and he’s primed and ready to get things underway.
“It's going to be an aggressive game,” he said “Our game-plan will be to be as aggressive as possible. It's the first game for them and for us, so we're going to put pressure on them and capitalize on their mistakes. It should be fun.”
Tonight's game can be seen LIVE right here on edmontonoilers.com.
OILERS 7 - CANUCKS 2The Oilers scored six second-period goals, including a pair by Anton Lander en route to a commanding 7-2 victory in the opening game of the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC.
In the win, Edmonton peppered Vancouver's David Honzik and Karel St. Laurent with 37 shots, while the Canucks could only manage 24 on Olivier Roy.
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AT THE MORNING SKATEFollowing the team’s decisive 7-2 victory over the Canucks Sunday night, the Oilers’ next assignment, also sporting a 1-0 record, comes vs. the Winnipeg Jets tonight at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Winnipeg came into the 2011 Young Stars Tournament as an unknown, but quickly turned heads in a 4-0 shutout win over the San Jose Sharks one night ago.
While the Oilers peppered the Canucks with dismantling speed, skill and up-tempo transition, the Jets replicated that style with their own brand, littering the ice with an incredible pace that proved deadly vs. San Jose.
As OKC Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson explains, it’s a matchup best dictated by the Oilers’ own game.
“[Winnipeg is] a very fast team; but then again, we think that we are as well. We think that our defencemen have great agility and speed when they're skating backwards and we can handle that.
“From that respect, we're going to focus on our own game. It's too early to really get into the technical part and match things up. Right now we want the guys to go out there, showcase their ability and go from there.”
Centre Tyler Pitlick, who will be slotted between Brett Ferguson and Tobias Rieder vs. Winnipeg, agreed with the coach’s comments.
“It's been pretty good,” he said of the tournament’s pace. “It seems pretty similar to Junior. It should be fun out there tonight.
IN ON THE BLUELINE
Jeremie Blain and Brandon Davidson, who were both scratched on Sunday, will be paired together in tonight's contest.
“I think we're players that play very similar to each other,” Blain said. “We move the puck well. We can pass, shoot, skate up-ice ourselves and play physical. We’re a good combo.
“I need to move the puck and be physical in my own end; get the puck out and support the rush. I'll also get involved in scoring chances when I have the opportunity, but I’m most concerned with my play in the D zone.”
As Davidson adds, the key is simplicity. With speed coming the other way, an overly aggressive mentality can trigger a breakdown.
“I'm not really thinking about it a whole lot,” he said. “I need to stick to my game plan and continue to do what got me here. I'm excited.
“Everything you can show [coaches and management], you've got to show them on the ice. That's all you can really do in this business. I really need to put a good game together tonight.”
Both players are keen to continue the team’s hot start.
“It was really good to see the guys win,” Davidson said. “We had a rough start there, but once we got rolling we had success. Hopefully all the pressure is off and we can play our game.”
Not having seen what the Jets are all about, Blain is ready regardless.
“I haven’t really seen them play or practice yet,” he said. “I heard they’re a really fast team and strong off the rush. We’ll see what happens. I’m not really too concerned, because our team is well prepared. We’re ready for whatever they throw at us.”
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Olivier Roy stopped 23 shots in the Oilers’ 7-2 win over Vancouver, but now it’s Tyler Bunz’ turn to showcase his skill to the masses in Penticton. The mild-mannered 19-year-old is, as you’d expect, excited about the opportunity to get back in the crease.
“It was a long summer,” he said. “Last season was the best season I've had in my whole career. It all adds up. The few practices that I've had here in Penticton have been really good.
"I'm looking forward to it.”
With dynamic young superstars patrolling the Jets’ lines, Bunz said he isn’t concerned with the opponent’s structure.
“You've got to treat it like any other game. You've got to play every shooter the same. I've got to prepare and work like I normally would.
“It starts tonight. I've got to do the same thing that I did last year; go out there, play hard and hopefully get the win for the guys.”
Practice notes: Cameron Abney skated on the team’s fourth line this morning, but will be scratched. Ryan Martindale will play the wing, alongside Antti Tyrvainen and Chase Schaber.
Hamilton - Nugent-Hopkins - Pelss
Ferguson - Pitlick - Rieder
Czerwonka - Smith - Rajala
Tyrvainen - Schaber - Martindale
Davidson - Blain
Vannieuwenhuizen - Lowery
Gernat - Fedun
OILERS 2 - JETS 0Chase Schaber and Ryan Lowery each scored, while Tyler Bunz stopped 22 as the Oilers grounded the Jets by a 2-0 score at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, BC.
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