Oil Strike In Sherwood Park
The nearby community of Sherwood Park is the host site for the beginning of training camp for the Edmonton Oilers where 65 players began carving out their fortunes in ice on Friday. The much too long summer has finally come to an end and the puck season has returned to the heartland of hockey.
Last Minute Changes
Some late additions to camp were made earlier in the week and VP of Player Development Kevin Prendergast offered a brief rundown on the final puzzle pieces.
One such piece is Gregor Baumgartner.
“Gregor was originally drafted by Montreal and was in the ECHL last year,” recounted Prendergast, “He’s just a great skater and we’re looking for guys who can score goals in Toronto. We’ll give him an opportunity to see if he can do something for us.”
Also added over the last few days was Kenton Smith.
“Kenton is one of those kids we feel will probably start in the ECHL but has the opportunity if something happened in Toronto he could fill in their for us.”
The Oilers need to supply a minimum of four players, including a goaltender, to their East Coast League affiliate the Columbus Cottonmouths.
“We’ll probably go as high as six if we can,” added Prendergast, “We’re bringing in a bunch of guys into Toronto’s camp that they’re going to have a look at and if we feel that there are guys that can fit into AHL/ECHL mode then we’d sign them to two-way deals.”
The last name to be added to the invitee list is a familiar one in Edmonton circles. Blair St. Martin is very familiar with the Oilers because as the captain of the University of Alberta Golden Bears he has been a leader during the annual clash between the two teams. Martin, who is on his way to becoming a surgeon, has been given an invitation out of both convenience and curiosity on the part of the Oilers.
“We needed an extra defenseman here in training camp and rather than spend the money to bring someone in from across the country…”
“Blair has done a great job for the Golden Bears and (coach) Rob Daum has spoken volumes about him so we’ll give him an opportunity here and see how it goes.”
The big question is where he’ll play in and after the annual Golden Bears vs. Oiler Rookies game next week.
“Um… he’s not going to play,” Prendergast stated with a heartfelt laugh, “We’re not going to do that to him!”
St. Martin stated that if he doesn’t make the Oilers roster that he will return to the Bears and his schooling.
“He was captain of the Golden Bears and certainly at this point we think he’s going to pursue his medical degree.
Oiler fans absolutely jammed into Millennium Place to watch day one of training camp and didn’t go away disappointed in what they saw. Several of the veteran players seemed to be in terrific shape and ready to begin the season today.
The players were prearranged into four teams consisting of the Oiler colors; Copper, Midnight Blue, Red and White. Over the course of the first four days of camp, the four coloured teams will have an inter-squad tournament culminating on Monday where the two top teams will play for the Joey Moss Cup. The trophy is named after their long time dressing room attendant Joey Moss who lives with Downs Syndrome.
Team Copper: (veterans, prospects, *free agent or recent signee)
Isbister – Smyth – Pisani
Wright – Pouliot – Hunter
*Courcelles – Cullen – *Baumgartner – Bodie
Semenov – Brewer
Dan Smith – Thompson – *St.Martin
Salo – Antila
Baum – Stoll – Salmelainen (injured)
Rita – Reasoner – Laraque
Stortini – Bishai – *Legault – Anderson
Bergeron – Ferguson
*Ndur – Luoma – *Henley
Deslauriers – *Martin
It was a fast paced, solid game that ended in a 4-2 victory for Copper. Of the prospects, Jarret Stoll was a stand out on this Day 1 game and the Saskatchewan native had a jump in his stride.
“He’s got a battle on his hands to make the team,” MacTavish warned, “He’s not just the de facto guy that gets to go in there, he’s got to earn it. Positions are never handed out prior to training camp.”
Jeff Deslauriers had a terrific game and was very sharp in the drills earlier in the day. Jay Legault was impressive in his Oiler camp debut.
Marc-Andre Bergeron was the best of the young defensemen in the game and his performance didn’t go unnoticed by the head coach.
“He moves the puck so well, he makes quick decisions with the puck. The play very seldom dies with him, which, in my mind, is a real mark of a great player,” said MacTavish, “He’s a little guy but he’s over 200 lbs., and he’s a strong guy on the puck just ask anybody who plays against him.”
MacTavish went on to confirm that Bergeron is near the top of the list of competing players for this year’s roster.
“We could really use a guy much like (Brian) Rafalski in New Jersey. Someone who can really move the puck and be an asset to our power play and we think (Bergeron) has a real chance to help us in that regard.”
The afternoon session was for the Blue and White groups.
Chimera – York – Dvorak
DiCasmirro – Winchester – *Plourde
Jacques – Hinz – Legg
Staios – Jason Smith
*Kenton Smith – Horacek – Hogan
Valiquette – Morrison
Moreau – Horcoff – Hemsky
Torres – Sarno – Henrich
Micka – Brodziak – McAslan
Cross – Allen
Lynch – Roy – *Sheptak
The second game of the day was a much more spirited affair than the previous one. Although there were no fights, there was plenty of contact and emotion to be seen.
The star of the day was little known Chris Legg who played from Brown University last season. The lightning fast winger scored twice in the game, half of his regular season total for goals last year.
Ty Conklin had a very strong camp debut and looks focused on earning the back up job behind Tommy Salo. That didn’t surprise MacTavish at all.
“The last couple of years when I’ve called Ty in to tell him he’s going to Hamilton he’s always looked at me like I was crazy. He’s a guy that has a lot of confidence and he’s coming in to play and play a lot.”
Raffi Torres was very aggressive on the ice and narrowly missed on a stylish backhand that rung off the iron behind Mike Morrison.
Another forward who had a strong showing was Michael Henrich who found good chemistry on his line with Torres and Peter Sarno.
The day ended with two press conferences, the first was with Kevin Lowe and basically focused on the Mike Comrie situation. The second media meeting starred Craig MacTavish and was a much more broad information session. MacTavish believes that the stiffest competition may revolve around left wing.
“There’s a lot of decisions left to be made not the least of which is who is going to play second line left wing. If Ryan (Smyth) goes back to the left side then he takes up a spot on the first line. The third line spot will be taken up by Ethan (Moreau) and after that there’s Jason (Chimera), (Brad) Isbister, (Jani) Rita, there’s (Raffi) Torres…and those guys better be ready right from the outset to compete for that position because somebody’s going to get it and it’s going to be a great opportunity for someone at this camp.”
Not mentioned in that grouping is Mike York, which leads to speculation that the diminutive center will move to the middle rather than his natural left wing position. That could mean bad things for Jarret Stoll, especially if and when Mike Comrie’s contract situation is settled and the incumbent No. 1 pivot rejoins the team.
Training camp continues through the weekend and the public portion concludes on Monday at Skyreach Center with the finals of the Joey Moss Cup. The Oilers will ice a team of rookies and prospects next Tuesday at Clare Drake Arena to battle the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Tickets are $15 and are available now or at the door.