The Oilers announced Monday that their annual rookie game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears will take place on Wednesday, September 16. It will be a change of venue, with the game moving from Clare Drake Arena to Rexall Place. Tickets are $30 and available for purchase through edmontonoilers.com, as well as all Ticketmaster locations starting Friday, August 28 at 10 a.m. Here are five things to know about this game.
1. A TIGHT RIVALRY
At first glance, one might expect the Oilers to have dominated this series through the years. But that is just not the case. Although NHL prospects skate for the orange and blue in these matches, the Golden Bears are often times the more experienced and mature squad. Not to mention they’ve been teammates for longer than the group of rookies. Facing an older and more experienced opponent can be a challenge for these Oilers youngsters. Thus, Edmonton’s record in these games in 11-13-0, dating back to 1988. Let’s not forget, these Golden Bears are a storied organization. They are the reigning back-to-back CIS University Cup Champions. Regardless, these games can be close and exciting to watch.
2. WE WERE ON A BREAK
History was interrupted for a brief time as the series between these two teams halted between 2010 and 2012. After a 4-3 Oilers loss to the Golden Bears on September 11, 2009, the teams broke off their annual date. They did not play in 2010, 2011 or 2012. The series resumed in 2013, with another 4-3 Oilers loss. Sean Ringrose, who scored the game-winning goal in 2009, scored the game clincher in 2013 as well in front of a crowd of over 3,000 fans at Clare Drake Arena. Last year, the Oilers got their revenge. Travis Ewanyk scored the game-winning goal at 13:39 of the first period. The Oilers rookies scored the first three goals on their way to a 4-2 victory. The post-break record between the two teams is now 1-1-0. One team will take the lead following this year’s game.
3. COACHING CONSISTENCY/NEW VENUE
As expected, a certain level of coaching consistency goes along with a prestigious collegiate program like the University of Alberta. Throughout this series, only six coaches have led the Golden Bears. However, three of them have the bulk of the games under their belts— Eric Thurston (four), Billy Moores (five) and Rob Daum (10). Thurston went 2-2 at the helm in his games between 2005 and 2009. Moores coached the Golden Bears to a record of 2-3 from 1989-1993. Daum, the longest tenured coach of the Bears during this stretch, had a record of 6-4 against the Oilers rookies.
The Golden Bears will have a new coach this year with their former bench boss heading to the NHL. More on that below… And another note is that for the first time in the series’ history it will be played at Rexall Place instead of Clare Drake. The previous 24 tilts were held on the U of A campus.
4. HELLO, IS IT ME YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?
Speaking of coaches, there is an interesting storyline to this year’s game involving a Golden Bear Champion “defecting” to the other side. Ian Herbers spent three years as the University of Alberta Head Coach, compiling a record of 119-19-0. The Bears, under his guidance, went 72-12-0 against conference opponents and 12-1-0 in conference playoffs. They are back-to-back National Champions. It was almost unfair to their opponents with Herbers leading the way. Flash forward to this summer and Herbers has joined the franchise he once played for. Herbers was named an Assistant Coach for the Oilers in July.
“It’s fantastic news to stay in my hometown just across the river and be at home and rejoin the Oilers family,” said Herbers. “I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m thankful that Peter (Chiarelli), Todd (McLellan) and the Oilers organization gave me this opportunity to coach in the best league in the world. It’s a great situation for me because I get to work with one of the best coaches in the game and a very talented group of players.”
While Herbers may not be on the bench for the Oilers rookies, he’ll likely be at Rexall Place for the game and maybe he’ll do a little fist pump inside when the Bears score. After all, he did play for the U of A as well.
5. BRINGING THE BIG GUNS
The Oilers rookie roster has not yet been announced, but fans could get to see a star-studded lineup against the Golden Bears this year. Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl are all first-round picks and all competed in the Oilers Orientation Camp this summer. That could be an indication that they will take on the U of A together. If so, fans will get a chance to see McDavid in action once again. He wowed spectators at Orientation Camp, especially in the Blue and White scrimmage, where he scored five goals. The 2015 first-overall pick is coming off a season in which he recorded 120 points in 47 games for the OHL’s Erie Otters.
Nurse is as exciting a defensive prospect as the Oilers have got. The 2013 seventh-overall pick is big, mean and talented. He is fresh off a season in which he made his NHL debut, won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship and gained valuable professional experience during the AHL playoffs.
Draisaitl was selected third overall in 2014. The big German centre made his NHL debut last season and lit the WHL ablaze upon his return. With the Kelowna Rockets, Draisaitl potted 19 goals and added 34 assists for 53 points in 32 games. He recorded 28 points in 19 playoff games and was named the Memorial Cup MVP for the WHL Champions.
The future of the Oilers could be on full display in September.
OILERS ROOKIES HISTORY VS. BEARS
Here is a brief summary of some of the games between the two teams throughout the series’ history, compiled by Oilers Colour Analyst Bob Stauffer.
1988 - Bears win 5-2 in Clare Drake’s last season as Head Coach at Alberta. Martin Gelinas, acquired a month earlier in the Wayne Gretzky trade, suits up for the Oilers Rookies.
1989 - Bears win 7-6 in Bill Moores first season as Head Coach of Alberta’s program. Adam Morrison a 50-goal scorer with Victoria in the WHL snipes a hat-trick for the Golden Bears.
1990 - Oilers Rookies win 6-4. Shjon Podein scores twice for the Oilers Rookies.
1992 - Oilers Rookies win 7-5. Former Golden Bear, Ian Herbers sets up two goals for the Oilers Rookies against a Golden Bears team he captained to the University Cup Championship the previous March.
1994 - Oilers Rookies win an 11-4 blow-out. David Oliver scored four goals. Oilers first-round picks Ryan Smyth (6th overall) and Jason Bonsignore (4th overall) did not score goals, but they were all over the scoresheet. Smyth had an assist and 12 PIMs and Bonsignore had 34 penalty minutes.
1997 - Oilers Rookies win 7-2. Michel Riesen the Oilers first-round pick in 1997, scores a goal.
2000 - Oilers Rookies win 5-2. Mike Comrie puts on a show and picks up a goal and two assists and Shawn Horcoff scored. As a freshman Jeff Zorn scores twice for Alberta. Zorn would go on to be named a four-time All-Canadian. Zorn is now a Doctor.
2001 - Bears win 7-2 and in the process start a five-year run in the head-to-head series. Former Hartford draft choice, Kevin Marsh, scores an electrifying goal on an end to end rush walking around hulking defenceman Alexei Semenov in the process.
2002 - Bears win 4-0. Alberta defenceman and Medical Student, Blair St. Martin scored twice and then pummeled minor league tough guy Shawn “Let’s Go” Legault in a one-sided scrap. St. Martin was no shrinking violet in the WHL. He road shotgun with Rocky Thompson in Medicine Hat and had 366 PIM’s in 1997-98. St. Martin is now a Doctor in Edmonton.
2004 - Bears win 8-2. With the lock-out looming, Alberta lights up Oilers’ goaltending prospects Jeff Deslauriers and 2004 first-round pick Devan Dunbyk. Oilers had a pretty good, albeit young team. With 2003 first-round pick Marc-Antoine Pouliot, 2004 first rounder’ Rob Schremp, Kyle Brodziak, JF Jacques and Zach Storini in the line-up.
2006 - Oilers Rookies win 6-3. After winning back-to-back National titles in 2004 and 2005 the Golden Bears have only eight returning player in the line-up. Dubnyk makes 27 saves for the win.
2008 - Oilers Rookies win 3-2. Jordan Eberle drafted 22nd overall that June, picks up an assist in the win.
2009 - Golden Bears wins 4-3. Alberta rallies from 3-1 deficit to take a 12-10 lead in the head-to-head series.