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WJC invasion has Oilers, Flames hitting road

by Aaron Vickers
With the World Juniors rolling into Edmonton and Calgary, the Oilers and Flames are flying out.

The tournament, using both Rexall Place in Edmonton and the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary as host sites, has forced  both NHL clubs to take to the road on lengthy road trips.

Flames captain Jarome Iginla has no problem with sharing his home rink with the hundreds of junior hopefuls.

"No hard feelings," said Iginla, who helped Canada to gold at the World Juniors in 1996. "I know Albertans, Canadians will be excited about that. It'll be a great atmosphere. I imagine the building will be packed, especially for the Team Canada games."

"No hard feelings. I know Albertans, Canadians will be excited about that. It'll be a great atmosphere. I imagine the building will be packed, especially for the Team Canada games."
-- Jarome Iginla

Canada will open the tournament in Edmonton as part of Group B, along with the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland and the United States. Group A, consisting of Latvia, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland will take control of the Saddledome.

As a result, both the Oilers and Flames will be booted from their buildings until both return home for games on Jan. 7.

Oilers forward Jordan Eberle doesn't mind taking to the road. Eberle, who won gold at the tournament in 2009 and silver in 2010, just wishes he had an opportunity to watch some of the World Junior games in person.

"It'd be nice to sit back and watch a little bit because I've played in it and know what the crowd and energy is like in the building," Eberle said. "The road is always fun though, you get a chance to bond. It's kind of a win-win."

After the preliminary round, all 10 teams will move to Calgary, forcing the Flames on a seven-game road trip.

"You pack a lot," Iginla said, whose Flames will rack up almost 12,000 miles during the two-week tour. "That's a longer one than we've had in a long time. It's going to be an important trip."

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The road trips come at an important time for both clubs as both teams are pushing for pOsition in the Stanley Cup Playoff picture as the calendar turns to 2012 and the season approaches its halfway mark.

The slumping Oilers are 15-16-3 with just three wins in their past 10. The Flames are 16-15-4 and sit three points out of a playoff position in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

The importance of the road trip isn't lost on Flames forward Lee Stempniak.

"It's a big stretch of games at a time of the year where everyone is setting themselves up for a big push for the playoffs," Stempniak said. "Where we are now, we're playing pretty well but if you have a look in the standings we're still near the bottom in the conference. We need to start making some ground up. We're going to go on the road and try to keep that mentality of playing really solid hockey and not worry about it being a road game or a home game and hopefully the wins pile up."

Eberle, whose Oilers have struggled on the road at times this season, echoed Stempniak' sentiments. 

"It's very important," he said. "We've had pretty good success at home, but (in) road games we've been struggling. We had a pretty good road trip last time we went on the road; but you get into these games, they're important that you win."

In the end, Smyth doesn't mind making the 7,600-mile trip -- under one condition.

"As long as we win it," he said, certainly talking about the fortunes of not only his club team but the Canadian junior team, as well. 
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