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GENE'S BLOG: Bigger and Better

In his latest blog, Gene Principe talks about how the Oilers have improved in team toughness over the past year

by Gene Principe / Special to

During the CBA-mandated bye week I was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer and in the course of conversation I mentioned as a kid my favourite team was the Philadelphia Flyers. I loved Bobby Clarke. My favourite player of all-time or at least at that time. The Flyers lived the adage of we'll beat you on the scoreboard and in the alley. They had talent but they had a boat load of toughness. You didn't need a doctor to diagnose the 'Philly Flu'. Lots of players had it and I don't blame them. They won two Stanley Cups in the 1970's before their reign of terror was brought to an end by Montreal. It seemed a tad ironic that the Broad Street Bullies are no longer and an example of that by the Rogers Place ruffians.

The Flyers still have toughness and talent like Wayne Simmonds but now the Oilers have more of both. More than Philadelphia and maybe more than any other team in the NHL. I would not have wanted to be Brandon Manning on Thursday night. A town and a team labeled him as Public Enemy Number One. It stemmed from what happened Nov. 3, 2015 and then Dec. 8, 2016. It all led to Feb. 16, 2017 and the closing of Manning vs. McDavid. Once and for all, that soap opera should be completed after Patrick Maroon fought the Flyers defenceman. He won the fight, he won the admiration of his teamates and the fans.

The thing is this: while Maroon stepped up, he wasn't the only one that can do the dirty work and the heavy lifting. After Edmonton's morning skate and as the build-up continued to the game against Philadelphia, I was able to sneak in a quick conversation with Zack Kassian. Listen, I'm not a violent guy. Really I'm not. My last fight was in grade 5 but as long as fighting is allowed in the NHL it can be a storyline in revenge, momentum and intimidation. Kassian spoke of the December 8th meeting between the Oilers and Flyers. Zack, who is quickly becoming a fan favourite, talked about Milan Lucic looking for retribution. Kassian said Milan was more than willing but might be considered a little too strong, too big and too experienced a fighter to go after 6'1" 205 pound Manning. He said Maroon asked him (which he did again last night) and while Maroon is as big as Lucic he is much less experienced in fisticuffs and then there's Kassian. Zack tried three different times to fight Manning before he finally stopped asking.

My point here is not to encourage fighting but to encourage being willing to stand up for a teammate and each Oiler knowing if things get ugly they've got enough ugly on their team to step up. There's Lucic, Maroon, Kassian and add to the list Matt Hendricks and Eric Gryba. Matt Benning has had a fight this season so has Mark Letestu and Kris Russell. Leon Draisaitl is no shrinking violet and neither is Adam Larsson and I better not forget Darnell Nurse who is one tough kid. It's not all about dropping the gloves but the mentality of not being a pushover and letting other teams off easy. No easy nights for the opponent anymore as the Edmonton Oilers are bigger and better.

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