The original plan for this tournament was to incorporate four teams; the host Oilers, the Flames, the Canucks and the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Every fall the premier CIS club which consists entirely of WHL graduates, some previously drafted players, opens the door to Clare Drake arena for an annual tilt against the Oiler rookies.
This year with the changing of management in Vancouver, plans for the four-team tournament were also altered. The Canucks opted not to play against Alberta and instead squared off with the UBC Thunderbirds, a CIS team in their own back yard. With Vancouver bowing out of their game against the Golden Bears, the Calgary Flames decided to follow suit, leaving Alberta basically cut out of the tournament.
However, that didn’t mean that their annual clash with the Oilers was in jeopardy and while the Flames and Canucks met in Camrose, the battle of Edmonton resumed at Clare Drake arena.
Like yesterday’s game between Calgary and Edmonton in Camrose, the match with Alberta got off to an interesting start. Both teams hit the ice for the pre-game warm up wearing their white uniforms; clearly a lack of communication. Traditionally, the game is played using CIS rules meaning no-touch icing, no fighting, goalies can play the puck in the corners and the home team wears white.
Unfortunately, the Oilers didn’t bring their dark blue sweaters so the Bears were the ones who had to re-dress. To further complicate matters, the only non-white uniforms that could be found were an incomplete set, meaning one player wore a shirt without numbers or a crest on his chest. Both Alberta goalies must have thought they were playing soccer; they were forced to wear completely different uniforms from their teammates. The rosters in the game day program were completely messed up so no one outside of the Bears’ locker room could identify who was wearing what number.
Once play got underway, everything was soon forgotten because the pace on the ice and the energy in the building were fantastic. A sold out crowd of just over 3000 fans watched as the two teams went back and forth trying to press for the advantage.
The normal course for these games is the Golden Bears dominating the Oilers for the first 10 minutes, catching the pros off guard with their underrated teamwork and skills. Tonight was no exception and if not for netminder Bryan Pitton, the Oilers could have been down a couple goals early on. His best save in the early stages came after former Chicago and New York Rangers draft pick Eric Hunter deftly set up a streaking Bears forward from behind the net, but Pitton’s athleticism was on display and he made a terrific stop.
Alberta continued to press the attack and in one goalmouth sequence Pitton, an OHL all-star last year with Brampton, continued to stone the home team. Former Saginaw Spirit forward Jesse Gimblett, Ian McDonald of Tri-City American fame and Hunter will all stopped in tight as bodies flew in the mad scramble.
Minutes later it was Alberta’s Kyle Pess who was stymied by the pads of the Oiler keeper.
“It was good that I saw the puck right away; I was a little nervous out there so to get a couple of saves right off the bat helped to boost the confidence,” Pitton said after the game. “This is my third year here but this was the first game I actually got to play because of injuries.”
Edmonton finally started evening the play and actually struck first thanks to a strong effort from their top line of the night. Bryan Lerg was playing between 2008 draftees Philippe Cornet and Jordan Eberle. Rimouski’s Cornet, parked alone in front, was the recipient of a pretty pass from the corner where hardworking Lerg spotted him. Cornet quickly converted the pass with a shot that beat Alberta goalie Aaron Sorochan.
Just under three minutes later the Oiler rookies would expand their lead when towering defenceman Milan Maslonka stepped into another pass from Lerg and blew it through Sorochan. Maslonka, a 6’6 245 lb rearguard, was a free agent invite to camp after spending 2007-08 in the CHL with the Youngstown Steelhounds. There he collected 7 points and a whopping 298 penalty minutes in just 56 games.
Alberta had one brilliant chance at the end of the period when highly touted blueliner Taylor Chorney coughed up the puck inside his own end but the lucky Bear who pounced on the mistake ended up wasting his golden chance by firing his shot high and wide.
At the end of the opening period the Oilers held a 2-0 lead and an edge in shots with 12 to Alberta’s nine.
The second period belonged to the Golden Bears.
The CIS squad took charge early in the middle frame and wouldn’t relinquish momentum. Kyle Pess was Johnny-on-the-spot as a rebound from a Derek Ryan shot found it’s way to him and he snapped it home past Pitton.
3 minutes later Oilers rookie Alex Plante was about to be given a penalty but the Bears were able to get the extra attacker on the ice, controlled the play in Edmonton’s end for at least half a minute and finally tied the game in another scramble around the blue paint. Travis Featherstone’s point shot beat Pitton but not enough to go across the line so Ben Kilgour was able to collect it and tip it across crease to Gimblett who easily deposited it into the back of the net.
The Oilers tried to shift momentum by stepping up their physical play. The line of David Rohlfs, Ryan O’Marra and Les Reaney got it started and 6’6 230 lb defender Anthony Pisano took it to another level when he hammered Ian McDonald with a clean open ice hit.
At the midway point of the period though it was Alberta leading the shots by an 11-1 margin.
The Oilers changed goalies at the midway point but not before Pitton made one of his best stops on the night. Pitton left the game having faced 22 shots with two getting by him but overall a pretty strong showing for the 20-year-old.
Andrew Perugini, starter last year with the Sarnia Sting but longtime Barrie Colt before that, entered the game and was instantly busy. Thrown to the wolves as the Bears mounted yet another attack, the undrafted 20-year-old from King City Ontario was very impressive.
“They like to get pucks in deep, skate with the puck and watching the first half of the game helped me learn what they like to do,” said Perugini afterwards, “Getting a contract here would be an honor but sometimes things don’t work out. Hopefully they do for me here.”
Perugini had appeared at a camp with the New York Rangers earlier this summer but hopes his play here will help get him signed to a contract before the end of September.
At the end of the second period the Bears had taken over in the overall shot count by a 27-14 margin but the score was knotted up at 2 goals apiece.
It didn’t take long for Edmonton to strike in the third period when former Vancouver Canuck 2nd round pick Marc-Andre Bernier powered a slapshot under the arm of Sorochan. Edmonton took the lead just 36 seconds into the final period and it ended up being enough for the win.
The Oilers carried much of the game in the first half of the period including a surprisingly fleet-footed David Rohlfs who nearly broke free, attempted to deke Sorochan but was stopped at the last minute.
Despite being shorthanded the Oilers continued to attack. Defenceman Taylor Chorney turned heads with a rink-long individual berserker rush that ended harmlessly.
The Bears began playing more desperate hockey and started getting gmore chances because of it. Perugini had to be sharp on one save but couldn’t corral the rebound. By the time the whistle was blown there were 11 players all piled up in the blue paint with Perugini somewhere on the bottom with the puck.
Former Medicine Hat Tiger Jordan Bendfeld jostled back and forth with one Bear but nothing serious developed from it.
Villain-of-the-week Geoff Paukovich had his second strong game in as many nights. Aside from his brutal hit from behind on Kyle Greentree (who is reportedly going to be fine but is out with a neck sprain) on Sunday, Paukovich played well against Calgary. He was even better against Alberta where he was defensively strong, blocked a ton of shots and even had one impressive offensive burst in the third period.
Edmonton thought they had scored a fourth goal but it was called back thanks to a penalty against Milan Kytnar, an import that is expected to be Saskatoon’s top center this year in the WHL.
Little known 18-year-old Dalton Prout of the Sarnia Sting looked like a veteran when he broke up an Alberta 2-on-1.
The final shots on goal were 37 to 26 in Alberta’s favor but the home team lost the 1-goal game to their professional rivals. Game stars were Bryan Lerg for his two-point performance, Aaron Sorochan and Andrew Perugini although certainly Bryan Pitton’s name had to be in the mix as well.
Spark plug Garret Hunt made his presence known as he tried several times to get a reaction from Bears players between whistles or with his aggressive style of play.
Former Providence defender Cody Wild had another strong game, was a plus-2 on the night.
The Oilers will play the Vancouver Canucks rookies in Camrose on Wednesday night. The Flames thumped Vancouver 6-3 tonight in their meeting so Calgary will end the mini-tournament with a perfect 2-0 record while Edmonton will try to improve to 2-1 while keeping the Canucks winless.