For every team in the NHL, this is the time of year where hope springs eternal.
The Oilers open their season tonight against the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place, and it’s a chance to turn over a new leaf.
“We’re not talking playoffs, we’re not talking about winning 10 of our first 20,” Oilers winger Matt Hendricks said. “We’re talking about tonight’s game, we’re talking about taking it one game at a time and we have the ability to play great hockey. We showed that last year down the stretch, we played some real good hockey and we want to continue that and we want to start where we left off.”
Inside the Oilers locker room this morning, there was a lot of anticipation for what’s to come tonight.
“Anytime the season starts there is a lot of excitement,” Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said. “You’ve got that clean slate, especially for us. We feel good about ourselves, but everybody does. We just want to go out tonight and play a great game. Calgary has already had a chance to play and they’ve probably already got the jitters out. For myself personally, and I’m sure that a lot of guys are like that, you’ve just got to go out there on the first shift and get the jitters out and get the rust out a little bit and play from there. There’s a lot of excitement and you’re raring to go.”
The build up for tonight’s game is a little different than your average season opener. The team is opening the season at home, which is always special. It’s the first game of the season, the Oilers are playing against bitter rivals and there will be some special visitors in the crowd (the 1984 Stanley Cup Championship team). The Oilers players rank the energy and excitement of tonight’s opener towards the top of their past experiences.
“It’s probably right up there with my first NHL game in Vancouver,” Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz said. “It’s going to be pretty special. Obviously, it’s a big rivalry with Calgary and all of those guys from ’84 are back. There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a good thing and we’re excited.”
Feeding off the energy and excitement of the crowd tonight will be key for the Oilers.
“I think this is going to bring in a lot of excitement in the building for everybody,” Oilers defenceman Brad Hunt said. “It’s just one of those things where you need to take that excitement and just roll with it. You’ve got to start off strong and build off it and build off the crowd excitement as well.”
HERE COME THE CHAMPS
The ’84 Oilers are in town for the 30th anniversary reunion of the franchise’s first cup-winning team. It’s a special opportunity for the past Oilers greats to mingle with the current team.
“First and foremost, what a special group,” Hendricks said. “They’re the start of the dynasty here and it’s incredible that they were able to come here and share this time with us. We’re very fortunate to have them.”
The ’84 team came into the locker room this morning to chat with the players, making it a special time for everyone involved.
“It’s cool to see what the champions look like,” Hunt said. “They have five Stanley Cups and it’s cool to see how they go about themselves and the bond they created with all of them being friends, and really they’re all brothers. I was talking with one of them and he said everyone is still the same. It’s so cool to hear and to see how close they still are and all of that comes from a winning team.”
Despite the excitement of having such high-profile visitors, the Oilers don’t expect it to change their preparation for tonight’s game.
“They were really excited this morning,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “We had a number of players very concerned yesterday that they weren’t going to get a chance to interact with the guys so our group was excited about that this morning. These players are programmed. They’re going to roll in here tonight, they know what times the meetings are, they turn into robots and they go through their routine. By the time that puck drops at 7:30, they forget who’s here. They forget that maybe their mom and dad or sister, wife, girlfriend, kids, the ’84 team or whoever it is, is there. It just becomes this focusing in that they do and they do it every night. I don’t think there will be any distractions with our guys.”
The Oilers are hoping to start the season off on a good note by continuing some of the positive momentum built in the pre-season. That means they’ll need to continue to aggressively pursue the puck.
“A lot of what we saw in the pre-season,” Eakins said of his expectations. “The one thing we were impressed with is how we were closing quickly and aggressively on the puck when we didn’t have it. Whether we had placed it in behind their defence, whether it was in the neutral zone or whether it was in our defensive zone, we had a real passion to get it back. Part of it is a tweak of our systems, but it’s just something that we have to do. We’ve got horses who want to skate and we need to let them loose there and go get that puck.”