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There's a bond between past and present that makes the 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers so special.
It's brought Oil Country together as one, with older generations drawing parallels to the orange and blue's mid-80s success, to the newer, wide-eyed grouping that sees Taylor Hall
, Jordan Eberle
and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
dominate the NHL at such a young age.
Between 1983 and 1990, the City of Champions' beloved Oilers captured enough Stanley Cup rings to compose a quintet, echoing a song of each championship tale through an exceptional diamond-laden sight.
Grant Fuhr, who, as a starter, patrolled the pipes in four Stanley Cup victories as an Oiler, understands the art of winning better than most. The Oilers' Boys on the Bus were champions on the ice, but developed a memorable, long-lasting brotherhood off of it as well.
"It's what we had when we were starting out," said Fuhr, who's now coaching a Bantam AAA squad for the Knights of Columbus. "What you're seeing is a good group of young kids; they have all to learn to grow together, win together and learn the good and bad.
"It's nice to see a good young nucleus where the team's going to be getting better and better. I'm excited to see where this team is headed."
That's where the connection comes in. Led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and others, the Oilers had the skill to overcome any opponent; while still raw, it appears the current crop does, too. As Fuhr explains, however, there's another, equally as vital component to assembling a winner.
"It's probably 60-40," he said regarding the all-important skill-will ratio. "Obviously the group has to have talent, but to a man, they have to believe in each other in the dressing room. Being all around the same age, bringing [Ryan Smyth
] back and other veterans, it's good leadership to learn from."
"I like the team's future," Fuhr added. "I think you've got a great mix of young guys and veterans. Once the team gets healthy, you've got a good backend with Ryan Whitney
, Cam Barker
and Tom Gilbert; Khabby (Nikolai Khabibulin
) is obviously a world-class goalie and I think Devan (Dubnyk) is going to turn into a world-class goalie as well."
Just as Glen Sather manned the Oilers' bench in Fuhr's winning springs, encouraging guidance is required to help the team mend as a unit; the netminder didn't need much, posting a 92-50 record and six shutouts in post-season action, but agreed that Sather's teachings had so much do to with the young Oilers' success.
Fuhr can see it happen again, with an experienced instructional group that's seen and done it all; and that includes donning the heavily exercised, tattered and dissolved orange and blue sweaters modeled in the 80s.
"Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger were part of that, so they know the game and organization inside and out; and Tom Renney is phenomenal teacher. I really like what they've done. I like the style that they're playing and they're teaching the kids the right way."
When camp opened on Sep. 16, the Oilers made no qualms about their pre-season ambitions. Consecutive 30th-place rankings in the NHL's league-wide standings meant there was a new goal worth pinpointing.
The Oilers haven't made the post-season since the 2005-06 season. A more distant end-goal is ultimately required, but beginning with the basics and working up to championship-thinking is an appropriate start.
"You start every season with the goal of wanting to win the Stanley Cup," Fuhr said. "It's not easy. You have 29 other teams with the same goal, but they'll get there. They're building something special here, so once they get back to the post-season and get a couple games in, you'll see where they're headed."
Just as he did when made a dazzling glove save back on Nov. 22, 2003 at the Heritage Classic, Grant Fuhr has, once again, shown Oil Country's newest generation what high-octane skill can lead to.
This time, it was with his words and enthusiastic support of what the Oilers can become once again.-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick