Everything is new this season for the Edmonton Oilers: new dressing room, a lot of new players and a new direction as the team tries to put last season behind them. Almost lost in the shuffle is the fact that two players will be suiting up for their first career NHL game - Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner
. We caught up with both players as they get ready to step on the ice in an NHL game for the first time.
How are you feeling coming into your first NHL game?
I’m feeling pretty good. This is something I’ve worked for my whole life and for a young guy to play his first game in the NHL it’s something special.
What sort of things do you need to do in order to be successful tonight?
Me and Gagner will be on the same line, a couple of young guys so we understand we have to play simple and do the little things right. We need to play well defensively and make sure we’re not scored against. I think we’re pretty good offensively so we should get some chances.
What about the team? Are you starting to find that comfort zone as an Oiler now?
Definitely. Having Moreau as the captain is fitting. He’s probably the first guy I met coming here and he’s one of the good guys in the dressing room. All the guys have been unbelievable with the young guys just making everybody feel welcome.
What do you think about the team’s chances of making the playoffs this season?
I think it seems pretty good. You’ve got guys like Hemsky, Penner and Souray. You look at TSN and you look at a lot of sceptical comments saying the Edmonton Oilers probably won’t make the playoffs again but I think we look pretty good. It’s early in the season, we haven’t even started yet but a lot of guys are playing well and we have a lot of chemistry on our lines.
What will it be like for you going up against the likes of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and others tonight?
It’s pretty surreal playing against guys like Thornton. You’re so used to watching them on TV and you look up to them. But it’s a good experience. You’ve got to make this step once in your life and this is the first one for me. It’ll be a little tough. You have to keep a level head and realize that these guys are NHL superstars.
Talk about this being a young team mixed with a lot of experience as well and how that works together.
This team is a really close team. They’ve always prided themselves on being one and a close-knit group. There’s a lot of young guys and guys new to the league but they’ve brought us all in real nice. It just makes the team better. If you’re not accepted by the players you’re not going to play well. We’re a big part of the team now and they know we all have to come together.
Playing on a fourth line with someone like Sam Gagner is a lot different direction than this organization has done in the past.
It’s a different situation, I think. Gagner and I are more offensive and we’re young guys. Head coach MacTavish has said they’re trying to go another route with more skill and obviously get younger. The main thing is to not be scored on and I think the offensive part of it will work out.
Seeing all those bandanas on the seats when you stepped on the ice for today’s morning skate, it must have sunk in that it’s not the pre-season anymore.
With a game like this, first in the NHL, it’s a dream come true. Obviously a little nerves come with that but I’m just trying to stay as calm as possible. I have to realize that it’s just another game, another chance to prove myself. I’m just going to have a lot of fun with it – work hard out there and try to get the win.
Does it matter to you where in the lineup you play? Coach MacTavish has you on the fourth line to start but also said with the absence of Moreau you could see some top line time as well with Stoll and Horcoff doing penalty kill duty.
No, I think just getting an opportunity to prove myself is a lot of fun for me. Whatever role I play I do it to the best of my ability.
Although you’re normally a centre, it looks like you’re going to be playing the wing today with Cogliano and J-F Jacques.
I’ve played some wing before, I’m pretty comfortable in that position wherever I’m put I’m pretty comfortable playing it. The linemates I’m with now (Jacques and Cogliano) have some speed and are really going to help me out. I’m looking forward to just getting a chance to play and am going to have some fun with it.
The San Jose Sharks are one of the bigger teams in the league. Does that change the way you prepare going into the game?
I’m not really too worried about that. There’s nothing I can really do right now about my size and strength going into the game. I’ve just got to prepare mentally as much as I can and hopefully be ready for it.
Normally the fourth line for the Oilers is a grind-it-out type line but this season it looks like the team is going in a different direction. With the type of offence you and Cogliano can provide, the opposition needs to be ready.
We’re going to do whatever we can to help the team win. If that means grind it out and do all the little things well, that’s what we’ll do. I think we complement each other well and with Jocko (Jacques) on the other side there he’s a big presence and he can get the puck for us. We have some chemistry and hopefully it’ll work tonight.
How do you like playing with someone like Cogliano? Does his speed change your approach at all?
He’s got a lot of speed. It makes it easy to play with a guy like that. The one thing with him is he controls it. A lot of guys are fast and fly all over the place but they don’t control it. He seems to really time plays well. It’s really easy to hit him with a pass in stride – it makes it really fun to play with him.