Oilers: Stoll gets his chance at last

By Guy Flaming






Teaser: After sitting out game after game to begin the season, Jarret<br />Stoll has become a master at the waiting game

He wasn’t in the opening night roster and
that’s understandable because he’s a rookie. 
After the team was shut out in two consecutive road losses he was still
a healthy scratch but that’s OK too because the coach didn’t want to send the
wrong message.  And obviously when the
team gets on a roll and wins a couple big games, like they did last week,
there’s no need to shake up the roster. 
That’s how Jarret Stoll’s first October in the NHL has gone, that
is until Saturday night.

 

After two big wins against Buffalo and
Colorado a week ago, the Edmonton Oilers blew a 3-0 lead against the St. Louis
Blues and haven’t been able to get back on track since.  In an effort to send a message to some of
the players, coach Craig MacTavish yanked Brad Isbister out of the line up and
inserted rookie Jarret Stoll for a marquee clash with the Calgary Flames.

 

Up until Saturday night’s showdown with Calgary,
Stoll had been a fixture up on the media catwalk trying to put a positive spin
on his misfortune.

 

“You learn a lot from being up there and
seeing how things happen, how much time you really have with the puck,” Stoll
said of his overhead view.  “It seems a
lot easier from up top because it simplifies the game.”

 

With his chin up, Stoll watched
Edmonton’s first seven games with a mixed bag of emotions.  On one hand he wanted to be on the ice and
going to war with his mates while on the other he understood that he could
benefit from the time off.

 

“You want to play, that’s the main thing,
but you want to learn also,” agreed Stoll. 
“I’ve been staying positive and working hard to make sure I’m in good
shape.  If you’re not ready to play when
you’re out of the line up you’re never going to be ready.”

 

It is considered rare that a young player
would not have to go through the ritual of sitting for extended periods of time
in the early stages of his NHL career. 
A glance at the roster sheet reveals several players who have the
painful memories of going through the same thing when they first broke into the
league.   

 

“Oh yeah, I only played 48 games my first
year,” nodded Ryan Smyth.  “You go
through that and it’s tough but you work hard and work your way into the line
up.”

 

“It is tough and I know how it is, I was
out for six or seven games in a row last year,” Edmonton born Jason Chimera
chimed in.  “It’s just one of those
things you can’t do anything about and that’s what you’ve got to remember.“

 

For some rookie players though, being a
healthy scratch from the line up is a novel experience and can be difficult to
accept.

 

“For most players, it’s the first time
they’ve had to sit out games and watch and that’s probably the most difficult
part,” explained Shawn Horcoff who only played 49 games his rookie season in
Edmonton.  “You want to be involved in
the games and you want to help contribute and you’re excited, I mean this is
the NHL and you want to be out there and playing.  You need to be patient and realize that you need to pay your dues
and your time will come.”

 

Being patient and paying your dues are
something all of these players seem to agree on.  It’s like an unwritten rite of passage that must be endured in
order for the player to advance on to acceptance.

 

“It’s a little bit frustrating but it’s
your first year and everybody goes through that so you just stay focused and
that’s the important thing,” said Ales Hemsky who appeared in 59 games in his
debut last season.

 

“You pay your dues in every league you
come into and there’s no better place to be in than the NHL so you just keep
reminding yourself of that and bide your time,” agreed Chimera. 

 

However, patience is not a trait one
usually associates with a young man, especially not a successful athlete.

 

“Obviously it can be tough especially
when you’re young,” Marty Reasoner supported. 
“You’re pretty anxious to get out there and get going.”

 

Reasoner would know.  He was in the same boat last year that Stoll
found himself in this season.  After
sitting out most of October, surviving the waiver wire and finally getting into
the line up, Reasoner was able to stick with the club for 70 games and is now a
regular.

 

“I think all you can do is try and stay
as positive as possible and work hard in practice and just make sure that when
you do get the opportunity, you’re ready to go,” said Reasoner.

 

Chimera can attest to that statement too.

 

“The biggest thing is to keep the best
attitude about it and you can’t get too down or let your teammates see you’re
getting down about it.  If the team is
winning it’s hard to be in a bad mood.”

 

So on top of being patient and biding
your time, a rookie also has to keep anything less than a positive emotion
bottled up so as not to negatively affect the rest of the team.  Sooner or later that’s going to prove
impossible for some players to be able to do.

 

“I think it does turn negative for a lot
of players and I think it hurts them,” said Horcoff.

 

“It definitely does and it’s a mental
game more than anything else and also with timing,” added Reasoner.  “You can skate as much as you want and
workout as hard as you want but it just doesn’t replace actually playing in
games and I think the longer you go the tougher it is to get back into it.”

 

“You’re here to play hockey and people
think it’s just all glamour but it’s pretty hard and you take it to heart,”
revealed Chimera.  “I remember last year
when I got pulled out for the playoffs and it almost brought tears because you
want to play so bad.”

 

It sounds like a newcomer should almost
resign himself to the notion that it’s a foregone conclusion that he will see
limited ice time to begin with in the NHL.

 

“I don’t think you ever want to have that
kind of attitude,” Reasoner said in disagreement.  “It’s a kind of defeatist attitude thinking that you’re just
happy to be here.  You always want to
contribute and play and help the team and if you don’t feel that way you
probably wouldn’t have made it this far anyway.”

 

Thankfully, amidst all of the unwritten rules
and protocols, there are those who have gone through all the trials and
tribulations in their own years and are willing to lend an ear to the new guys.

 

“We’ve got a great coaching staff here
that does that too but coming from a player to a player it means a little more
and when you do those sorts of things it helps and it gives them some
confidence too,” said Ryan Smyth who is one of those leaders in the room who
will talk to others about this trying time.

 

“We have some awesome guys like Ethan
Moreau, Stevie Staios, Mike York and Jason Smith… all great guys and help keep
you positive,” confirmed Chimera.  “This
team is so close knit and everyone is so nice and positive with each other that
there’s always someone giving you a pat on the back to keep you going.  When guys like that come up and talk to you
like that, it helps you that much more.”

 

Eventually though the encouraging tap on
the back from a teammate turns into a tap on the shoulder from the coach
telling you to suit up for game duty. 
Even then the emotions can get the better of a player.  There’s excitement about finally getting the
call but apprehension and nervousness about making an impact too.

 

“For me it was more exciting,” Horcoff
remembered.  “It can be nervous but I
mean… good nervous.  You’re just
so excited to play that a lot of times adrenaline is what gets you through the
games.”

 

“It’s a fine line I think,” explained
Reasoner.  “Obviously you’re really
excited about the chance but I know from experience that you can put too much pressure
on yourself.  I think I’ve done that
before where you feel like every shift you make is the difference in whether
you’re going to be in the line up again the next night.” 

 

“The biggest thing is to concentrate on
the little things, especially if you’ve been out for a long time and things
will fall into the right place,” continued Reasoner.  “You can put too much pressure on yourself to really make
something happen and you end up pushing yourself and not performing the way
that you know you can.”

 

“For a guy like Stollie, he’s such a good
player he’s going to have a lot of great years in this league and he just needs
to be patient because it’s going to come for him,” Horcoff concluded.

 

Stoll gets the nod

 

And like Horcoff said earlier in the day,
Stoll’s opportunity did come that night in an important game against a division
rival.

 

“I’m just excited to be getting into the
line up and hopefully we can get the win because it’s a big game for us,” said
Stoll at the morning skate.  “I’ve been
really looking forward to this.”

 

Unfortunately for Stoll and the Oilers,
they went on to drop the game against the Flames thus extending their losing
streak to three games.  For Stoll, the
experience was bittersweet at best.

 

“Well it’s not what I’d hoped,” said Stoll
understating the outcome but still able to smile about playing.  “We were a little flat, there were a lot of
penalties so it was kind of a weird game and there wasn’t a lot of flow or
plays being made. They out worked us in the end.”

 

The team as a whole will have four and a
half days to practice in order to snap out of their losing funk.  The next Oiler game is a home date next
Thursday when Todd Marchant makes his return to Oilerville with his new club,
the Columbus Blue Jackets.

 

“Flaming” Hot:

 

Ethan Moreau – Like last year, Moreau has
been the emotional leader through the month of October.  He’s skating hard, banging harder and even
dropping the gloves in defense of his teammates.  The new alternate captain is showing why he was given that
distinction.

 

Radek Dvorak – Snake-bitten to this point
of the season, Dvorak has overcome a slow start to put together solid efforts
in the last four games.  He’s skating
well and creating opportunities, he’s just not scoring.

 

Ryan Smyth – The definition of a warrior
on skates.  There isn’t a player on the
team who plays with more emotion and effort on a nightly basis.

 

“Flaming” Not:

 

Tommy Salo – Edmonton’s highest paid
player is being counted on to steal victories and hold his team in close
games.  Neither has happened this
year.  He’s not solely to blame for the
winless skid but when he’s giving up 4 goals on 21 shots (CGY) or 5 goals on 19
shots (STL), something is wrong.

 

Eric Brewer – Admittedly had his worst
game, as an Oiler against Colorado when he totalled a –4, Brewer wasn’t much
better against St. Louis before that or Calgary on Saturday.  Clearly struggling, Brewer is really
starting to receive heat from the media and from the fans.

 

Team Notes:

 

         
Alexei Semenov scored his first goal
of the year against Calgary when he teed off on a point blast.  Later on in the same game he launched
another rocket that Flames goaltender Jamie McLennan ducked just in time to see
it smash out a chunk of the end glass.

         
Ales Hemsky, who leads the team in
scoring with 8 points, only has a pathetic 8 shots in 8 games.  Hemsky uses his great speed bursts to get
into open areas to receive passes but then slows right down in order to make a
play.  If Hemsky ever figures out how to
play with the puck at top speed, the kid will become a super star.

         
Stoll struggled in the faceoff circle
going 2 for 9, that’s 22%.

         
Marc-Andre Bergeron was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row.

         
Only three players didn’t play a single
second of PK time against Calgary: 
Ferguson, Chimera and Raffi Torres.

 

Prospect
Notes:

         
David Rohlfs, a freshman for the Michigan Wolverines the Oilers drafted this past
June, was named rookie of the week in the CCHA.  Rohlfs scored twice in two games last week including the game
winner against Miami of Ohio.

         
Oiler prospects are playing on some of
the top NCAA teams this year according to the latest polls.  USA Today has New Hampshire (Ed Caron)
ranked as #2, #3 is North Dakota (Matt Greene), #6 Michigan (Helminen
& Rohlfs), #8 Denver (Fisher), #10 Harvard (Kenny Smith)
and #13 Providence (McDonald & Platt).

         
Marc-Antoine Pouliot injured his groin last week but according to Kevin Prendergast, it
shouldn’t be anything serious and is not associated with the hip flexor he
endured this summer and fall.  Pouliot
currently has 21 points in 14 games for Rimouski (QMJHL).

         
Kyle Brodziak continues to play well for Moose Jaw (WHL) and now has 20 points in
15 games.  Brodziak was selected to the
22-man Team WHL that will play
in the 2003 RE/MAX Canada Russia Challenge Series. The series which
will feature Team WHL taking on the Russian Selects in games in Calgary on
November 26th and in Brandon on November 27th.