THE TEAM TODAY: Still Feeling Gr-8
Sam Gagner, Oilers reflect on the centre's magical night against the Blackhawks, RNH set to return and more from Friday's practice
STILL FEELING GR-8Edmonton, AB - He may have tallied an unbelievable eight points the previous night in an 8-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, but Oilers centre Sam Gagner was still on cloud nine Friday morning as the team returned to practice at Rexall Place.
The 22-year-old etched his name in the NHL record books on Thursday, matching Oilers legends Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey as the only players in team history to post a snowman on the scoresheet in a single game. And wouldn't you know it, Gagner received immediate contact from both Hall of Famers, in addition to more than 100 other friends and family members.
"I had 60 (texts and emails) last night and another 50 when I got up this morning, so it's been a lot of work writing everyone back," Gagner said post-practice on Friday to a large media contingent, still appearing in shock over his previous night's achievement. "It's nice to see that support from everyone."
"I got a couple really big ones too … Wayne Gretzky texted me, and Paul Coffey as well," Gagner continued with a big smile. "To be mentioned in a record with those guys is a pretty special feeling … really an honour."
The fifth-year Oiler said Gretzky congratulated him on his achievement and told him to enjoy it. The Great One scored eight points in a single game on two occasions — March 19, 1983 and January 4, 1984. Coffey, meanwhile, accomplished the feat on March 14, 1986.
"To get a text from someone like that, who's the best player of all time, it's something he really didn't have to do," Gagner said. "He signed off '99' and I was like, 'Whoa, that's unbelievable.' It meant a lot to me. It's a really classy move by both guys."
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Another impressive result of Gagner's epic eight-point performance is that he and his father now both share a record with The Great One. Dave Gagner, who played 946 career NHL games, equaled Gretzky's record of scoring four points in a single period during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I obviously owe him so much for my hockey career … both my parents are really proud," said Gagner, who spoke on the phone with his mom and dad last night while sitting in the Oilers locker room lounge post-game. "My mom usually falls asleep by the third period, but last night she stayed up and watched the whole game. It was a special night for them as well."
"Just imagine following your dad into the NHL in the first place, and then being able to do something like that on top of it," Head Coach Tom Renney added. "It's certainly special stuff."
SIGN OF THE FUTURE
Renney had plenty more to say about Thursday's memorable game, stressing that there are multiple Oilers players who are capable of producing such remarkable performances. He said he hopes Gagner's feat is the first of many similar achievements forthcoming for the organization.
"That's what you can look forward to here," the bench boss said. "I'm not saying we're going to be doing extraordinary things offensively every time we play, but this team is going to be special. It's got kids who are deeply committed to where this thing can go with their help."
"In a strange kind of way, maybe the Oil is turning," he continued. "We're going in the right direction and hopefully we can talk about more special things as time goes on."
NO MORE BLUELINE BLUES
Overshadowed by Gagner's heroics on Thursday were a pair of much-needed positive performances from defencemen Cam Barker and Ryan Whitney.
Barker tallied the game-winning goal and posted a plus-three rating in his first game back in the Oilers lineup since Nov. 10, when he suffered an ankle injury. Whitney, meanwhile, scored his first goal since Dec. 26, 2010, as he continues to recover from his ankle and knee ailments.
"I felt good and felt like I fit in out there, and it was nice to contribute offensively," Barker said. "It's just one game, and I need to build on that, but I thought it went pretty well."
RNH SET TO RETURN
While Barker made his return to the Oilers lineup on Thursday, another key player is expected to be back tomorrow night against the Detroit Red Wings, as rookie centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has recovered from his shoulder injury suffered Jan. 2 against the Blackhawks.
"I'm pretty certain I'll be back tomorrow," said Nugent-Hopkins, who likely won't return to his usual role of playing between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, however, considering Gagner's chemistry with the two snipers as of late.
"It's been a long road to recovery, but I'm feeling good and I'm excited to get back out there. It'll be important for me to get into the game right away, whether it be taking a hit, giving a hit or getting a couple of shots on goal."
Despite missing more than a month of game action, the 18-year-old still leads all NHL rookies in scoring with 35 points in 38 games. Nugent-Hopkins also said on Friday he looks forward to catching up with his former Red Deer Rebels coaches and teammates tonight at Rexall Place, as the Edmonton Oil Kings host their provincial rivals in WHL action.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com