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Home ice advantage

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers
Jason Strudwick, left, battles to clear the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins' Georges Laraque in the first period during Game 4 of an NHL Eastern Conference semifinal hockey playoff series Thursday, May 1, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Once again this season, Northern Alberta will be well represented in the Oilers locker room as no fewer than five players grew up in communities that bleed copper and blue. The newest addition to the home-town contingent is Edmonton-native Jason Strudwick, who was signed as a free agent by the club on July 10th.

After enjoying seasons in Vancouver, Chicago, New York, and Switzerland over the past decade, the 33-year-old defenceman is happy to be back home and – most of all – be a part of the Oilers organization.

“I grew up watching the Oilers, so to wear the jersey makes it kind of special,” Strudwick says. “It’s nice to be here with my family and friends, but the best part of the whole deal is I think we have a really good team – a good, fast team. So I think it’s going to be a fun Training Camp and it will be fun to get started.”

Though there are a few familiar faces in the Oilers locker room – including Steve Staios and Steve Tambellini, who were also part of the 1998-99 Vancouver Canucks organization – Strudwick admits there are always a few nerves when starting with a new team.

 “You want to make sure your teammates understand what you bring and provide, and you just want to come and fit in with a good group of guys,” he says. “I’ve moved around through a few teams now and you get to know guys you’ve played with but also you learn to fit in pretty well with the team. You find your role and where you fit in with the group. It doesn’t happen just after one day, but I think I understand what it takes to be a team and I feel like I’ll fit in pretty well.”

The importance of fitting in was apparent during Saturday’s scrimmage when all skaters were forced to test chemistry with new linemates.  As a player who has participated in over a dozen NHL training camps, Strudwick has out-grown the rookie jitters that may have plagued some of the other players on the ice.

“I think as a young guy, everything’s so new and you’re just trying to keep up and see what the hell’s going on out there. I think that as you get older, you understand how to prepare yourself for skating well and moving well, and you know when you’re ready to play.”

“But all these young guys are in phenomenal shape – just like all players are now,” he emphasizes. “There’s nobody who shows up out of shape anymore. You just can’t afford to.”

Strudwick’s experience and leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed by Oilers coaching staff and management.

“He brings a lot of leadership, veteran experience,” Head Coach Craig MacTavish says. “He’s a real good presence in the locker room and I think he brings quite a bit of toughness too. “

General Manager Steve Tambellini agrees.

“He’s a competitor. He’s a hard-nosed defensive player that coaches can rely upon and as importantly, he’s a great teammate,” the G.M. praises. “If you ask any of his former teammates what Jason Strudwick is about, he’s a character guy that’s committed, sticks up for his teammates, and he’s just a good all-around person.”

A good competitor on the ice and a good person off the ice, Strudwick also has a good sense of humour and (arguably) a good set of pipes. While playing with the Rangers last season, he put his singing skills on display for a video feature on the team’s website. Will Oilers TV have the rights to a repeat performance this season?

“It’s a little early to say,” he says. “I’m not sure if I want to relive those days. They were pretty fun but I’ve had a lot of people request that I don’t do it anymore.”

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