THE TEAM TODAY: Talkin' about practice
Teams A, B & C return to action for on-ice sessions at Rexall Place
ON THE ICE161 days since the Oilers last carved the ice at Rexall Place, the team returned to begin on-ice sessions at Training Camp Saturday morning.
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TEAM ALed by Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky at 8:15am, Team A was pushed (hard) by Head Coach Tom Renney, putting emphasis on pace, physical play and communication.
“Yeah it was really good out there,” said Jeff Petry, who will be battling for a position out of camp this year.
“It's always good to get going at the start of camp. You play all those games during the summer and there's no contact, so it's good to work the body a little and bring some contact back in the game.
“It was a pretty high pace out there, too. There are a couple things that need to be worked on, but for the first skate, I thought we did well.”
This year, Training Camp is much shorter. The players only have one day (today), to practice and develop chemistry before tomorrow’s Joey Moss Cup.
On Monday, they'll practice once more before pre-season action kicks off vs. Minnesota and Chicago.
It’s condensed, but Petry is on board.
“This is my second go around, so I experienced it last year,” he said when asked about the longer camp. “I like the idea of getting right into games and getting that game pace going; working on things against guys that you're going to be playing with during the season.”
It’s no wonder the 23-year-old is raring to go. Petry will be in tough to crack the squad this year, but is convinced that he’s got a decent enough chance to make an impression.
“I've just got to play my game,” he explained. “I need to work on the things that, at the end of last year, [coaches and management] wanted me to work on over the summer.
“Other than that, compete day-in and day-out. That's one thing that I've been focusing on this year, is that we've got to push each other, as a team, to improve and be consistent.”
BULIN FOR MORE
Another player that stood out during this morning’s session was 15-year veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, who struggled last season posting a .890 save-percentage and 3.40 goals-against average in 47 games.
That, in addition to some off-ice legal issues, made for a challenging summer. Even so, the 38-year-old past Stanley Cup winner is poised to battle back.
“I wasn't very happy with last year on different levels with my game,” he said. “I think I really want to bounce back this year and I tried to work as hard as I could over the summer to make sure I'm in good enough shape.
“I'm always in good shape, but I think I had some extra motivation this year.
“Every athlete has pride,” he added. “I don't want to be the goalie that's happy with the year I had last year. I've always tried to be the best goalie and be the best in the league. I'll try with the same approach and learn from last year.”
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini commented on Khabibulin prior to leaving Penticton. Although he’s sure his goalie will rebound mentally, Tambellini was non-committal about declaring Khabibulin as the team’s starting netminder.
“I guess you'd have to ask him [about the pressure],” he said. “I can't imagine the distraction could go away, He spoke a little about that, but there's a lot on his mind.”
Tambellini also encouraged Khabibulin to take a more public approach, potentially even speaking about his DUI to help guide others.
“I think he has an opportunity also, to send a message through public announcements; he has a chance to be a good example for our team, for young people about the consequences that can happen so quickly.
“I want him to be that giving person, as far as setting more of an example through any type of help that public awareness can bring.”
WORK IN PROGRESS FOR WHITNEY
A real positive sign for Oilers fans was seeing defenceman Ryan Whitney back on the ice for the club. He was in a pairing alongside Jeff Petry. The blueliner did leave the session early as he's still in recovery mode from his ankle injury suffered last December.
"The first 20, 30 minutes it feels great and then when it gets tired, it gets really sore," said Whitney. "It's just strengthening it, endurance-wise. The pain doesn't come until it's worn down and right now that's 30, 40 minutes in. If that can be an hour-and-a-half or two hours, that's when I'm good."
Whitney reiterated that he'll be ready for the start of the regular season and will likely see some pre-season action.
"My goal is to get two or three exhibition games in. I know the last two are back-to-back so if I don't get to play those I'm sure it'll only be one. Maybe I'll get the one before those two back-to-backs (Sept. 27 against Phoenix). That's about 10 days and that's a good goal to have."
If he's unable to get into some pre-season games, it shouldn't set Whitney back too much but ideally he stated he'd like to get some games under his belt after being out for so long.
"If it doesn't happen, it's not the end of the world but after not playing for half a season it would be tough to just jump into the first game of the regular season or a week into the regular season. It would be good to have some warm-up games."
TEAM BThe most eye-catching line combination from the second group was that of Ryan Smyth, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
For Smyth, it was his first official on-ice day in his return to the Oilers. He was quite pleased with the linemates he was given.
"Watching Nugent-Hopkins - I saw him here in the Team Canada camp, it's the first time I've seen him play - the hype and excitement of being drafted number one, it's exciting to be with him as a line. And Eberle established himself last year as a phenomenal player. I like it," Smyth stated. "They're quick. They push the pace and I do my thing by going to the net, too."
Nugent-Hopkins talked about how Smyth has really taken a mentorship role with him.
"It seems like he's taking me under his wing. He's great to talk to and a really friendly guy. So far, it's just great," the 2011 first-overall pick remarked.
Nugent-Hopkins really noticed the pace of an NHL training camp versus the WHL camps he's been in previously.
"The guys are much bigger and faster. You always have to be moving and always have to be thinking, too."
With time spent off the ice Thursday and Friday, he felt it took him some time to get back into it.
"It took a little bit to get the legs back after a couple of days off but after that it felt pretty good."
Eberle also had a spirited day on-ice.
"I feel pretty good, which is not usually the case on Day 1," he said. "I've done a lot of skating over the past month and I'm probably accustomed to that."
Skating with Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle felt that the duo complement each other quite well on the ice.
"You can tell he's got a lot of smarts in his game and he's got a lot of skill. I'm excited to take a look at him in the next couple of days."
With both players coming from the WHL, Eberle remarked that he's familiar with the style of game of Nugent-Hopkins.
"I played against him a little bit in junior and watched him in Penticton (at the Young Stars Tournament). He looks like he's got a knack for finding people around the net and that's perfect," Eberle noted. "When you look at both our games they're similar. We try to find spots where we get open."
Following the second group, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini addressed the media on a number of different topics.
He first remarked about the injury status of Colten Teubert, who was supposed to skate with Team B today. The GM stated that Teubert has a concussion, in addition to the broken nose he suffered during the Young Stars tournament.
"Colten got into quite a scrap there in the Rookie Tournament. He has shown some concussion-type symptoms. As with any player, you want to make sure and take the required time," Tambellini began. "We expect him back soon. He's feeling good. He's eager to get back."
Teubert himself said he could have been out there but the team wanted to take all the precautions necessary.
"We're just starting camp here. We want to make sure by the time he's ready he feels his 100% and can start again," said Tambellini.
The GM was also asked about the injury statuses of Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky. Both are very close to returning.
"They've both come off major surgery. One in his ankle/foot and Hemmer with his shoulder. My goal here is to make sure they're ready for opening night."
Tambellini added that he'd like to see them each play a couple of exhibition games ideally but there's no rush to get them back. He did note that he was happy with how Hemsky looked.
"He looked good out there," Tambellini added.
He was also asked about camp tryout defenceman Kirill Tulupov, a one-time draft choice of the New Jersey Devils who has fallen off the NHL radar the past few seasons.
"Igor Larionov had called me a few times talking about this player, that he was just looking for a chance to come to camp and show he has the ability to play pro over here."
Tulupov was a player who had played in North America before. He originally came over in 2004 to play for the Toronto Varsity Rattlers Touring Team for a couple of seasons before moving on to the QMJHL. He returned to Europe after three seasons split between Chicoutimi and Victoriaville.
"He played in the Quebec League for three seasons, played in the Slovakian league, a little bit in the KHL. He's a big man with a heavy shot, competed hard over there," said Tambellini. "I've known Igor for quite some time and I trust his assessment that he'd be a person that we may wish to take a look at in training camp."
TEAM CWith a new season comes new opportunity. For Ryan O’Marra and Linus Omark, there’s a common theme heading into 2011-12.
Both players were sent down to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons in September. Each had a strong camp, but were victims of the numbers game, particularly with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi all stealing the pre-season show.
As the season progressed and injuries mounted, both got their chance in Edmonton. Omark played in 51 games, while O’Marra appeared in 21.
Following the season, both were returned to OKC and played in the team’s inaugural post-season series vs. the Hamilton Bulldogs (and were subsequently eliminated in six games).
But now they’re back, ready to show Head Coach Tom Renney and others where they intend to play in 2011-12 – right away.
“In Oklahoma City, I played a lot in certain situations that I have to excel at to have success at the next level, assuming I can prove my worth and get a chance up here,” O’Marra said.
“It really was an amazing experience. I’m going to take away everything I possibly can. OKC taught me a lot, especially when we played Hamilton in the post-season. The intensity is something else, too. I haven’t played in a situation like that before, so I’m hoping to bring what I learned into camp this year.”
Omark also got the opportunity, posting one goal and three points in six post-season contests vs. Hamilton. He, too, couldn’t say enough about the invaluable lessons that only up-tempo playoff hockey can teach.
“I learned a lot in Oklahoma City,” he explained. “The ice and systems are a lot different than they were in Sweden. I think it was good that I got the opportunity to play in the post-season there as well.
“We didn't go very far, but the experience was really good and I think I'm a better player because I got that chance.”
Omark had an up-and-down campaign, stepping up early with a brash, sometimes cocky attitude. Over a season cut between the AHL and NHL, he settled in and became a valued contributor on the Oilers' roster.
EARNING A SPOT
Renney, who balanced Omark’s ice-time last season in certain situations, said that he’s still got his work cut out to earn a spot this time around.
“We're Day 1 into the camp, so I don't know,” he said when asked about Omark’s role this season. “It will be what he does over the next three weeks that help us determine where they're going to play this year; and Linus did a lot of good things for us last year for us.
“He's got courage with the puck, he's got great instincts, he's not afraid of the rough-going. That certainly bodes well for him, but now there's a little bit more competition for jobs and that's the way it should be.”
It shouldn’t be considered a challenge by the Oilers’ bench boss, but rather an honest assessment, considering the number of skilled forwards battling tooth-and-nail for a sniff.
Omark, however, is poised to earn a role.
“I can only do my best and push it every day and take bigger steps than last year,” he said. “Hopefully I can start the season here and have a good year.
“I have to be one of the best players.”
As everyone understands, there are no guarantees. O’Marra is in a similar boat, knowing that he needs to produce early in order to earn a longer look and, potentially, a spot on opening night.
“I need to show some more quickness,” he said. “I cut some weight and I'm down almost 10 pounds from last year. They want to see my strength on both sides of the puck as well.
“I’m going to show that in the Joey Moss Cup and pre-season games.”
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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