EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers skated in their final practice at Rexall Place on Tuesday morning, a day before their final home game in the building.
Coming off a disappointing 5-0 loss to Calgary on Saturday night, the Oil close out their home schedule on Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks. The emotions of their last game were tied to it being the final Battle of Alberta at Rexall Place, but the team fell flat.
“The last time I downplayed (the moment) we didn’t get a very good result so yeah, there is a little more emphasis on it,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “It’s a special night for a lot of people and maybe the least important might be the players. There’s alumni, there’s fans, there’s media people that have been here for decades that have grown up in this building and have fond memories and they have some tough memories. So we want to make sure we do our part in providing them with something to be proud of and an entertaining night. The effort part of it is something I’m counting on. The result, I’m not sure. But you never have a guarantee, other than I know for sure if we don’t get the effort we’ll lose. That I can guarantee. I believe we’ll get it. We’ve had two good practice days. The players know we’re very suspect the other day and they’ll respond.”
Following a NHLPA-mandatory off day Sunday, the Oilers got to work at practice on Monday. They skated hard and participated in battle drills as they were trying to re-establish work ethic.
“I think we responded well,” Oilers winger Matt Hendricks said Tuesday. “I don’t want to talk too much about the other night, but it was a poor effort on our part. Unacceptable, no matter where you are, but when you’re at home it’s definitely unacceptable. We put the work boots on the last couple days and he demanded a lot of us in terms of practicing, skating and executing and I thought everybody responded well and came to work, worked hard and hopefully these results will help us tomorrow night.”
The Oilers move downtown to brand new Rogers Place in the fall, ending an era at Rexall Place/Skyreach Centre/Northlands Coliseum. To each player, the old arena means or represents something different.
“Back in ’09, or when I played my first game here I think it was with the Avalanche, the history is the first thing you think about and all the past Oilers, the Stanley Cup wins and then the ice,” said Hendricks. “You get on that ice for the first time and see how great it is to skate on and how fast the ice is, how much harder you seem to shoot the puck out there and all those great feelings. For me, the biggest thing is the history and all the players who have played here before me. I’m just happy to be in the same arena as they were.”
Defenceman Griffin Reinhart played his junior hockey in the same building as a member of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“Those years in junior playing here, going deep in the playoffs and a couple championships are the first things that pop in my head,” said Reinhart. “After that, I think probably the trade to come to Edmonton. I played in junior and watched the Oilers here for so long and it was a pretty cool moment to be traded here and be able to play in the NHL here.”
The Oilers will have more than 100 alumni in attendance for the final game against the Canucks, including Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. While it would be nice to win in front of some of hockey’s greatest players, the current Oilers are more focused on internal goals.
“There’s going to be a lot of past players here,” said Hendricks. “It’s a big night for the City of Edmonton. I’m not going to sit here and say we want to win a game for those guys. It, obviously, means a lot that they’re here but we’re more concerned about our group. We want to win for each other in here first and for them next.”
“You want to play your best every night,” Connor McDavid added. “Whether we win or lose, I’m sure we’ll still look (the alumni) in the eye and all that, but we definitely want to play well and we want to win and put together a good game for the history and the fans and for all the alumni that are going to be there. It’s definitely something we want to do.”
Work ethic and effort are the priorities for the Oil to give the fans something to cheer about.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a special game,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “To experience the last game in this building is going to be pretty cool. No matter what happened last game we want to put on a performance and go out there and work extremely hard. Whether we win or not, it’d be a nice bonus, we’re just going to go out there, work our bags off and try to have fun and enjoy the moment.”
For Edmonton, there is much excitement in the community about the new rink and the improvements and additions to the downtown core. However, Wednesday night is all about the history of the building and saying goodbye to where the franchise has called home for many years.
“It’s a little older now, but you just get a sense of the history,” said McDavid. “You look up and you see the banners and the names in the rafters and it’s a special place. It’s really hard to picture what it would have been like winning a Stanley Cup here with the way everything has gone this year. But I can only imagine what it would have been like. Definitely want to put together a good game here to close it out.”
The Oilers have played the Canucks three times this season, and close their schedule with a home-and-home against their division rivals. Edmonton has taken two of the first three meetings, beating the Canucks 2-1 in overtime on October 18 and 2-0 on March 18. The Canucks are currently riding a win streak of three games, with solid victories over the playoff-bound California teams.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
CANUCKS (30-36-13) at OILERS (30-43-7)
TV: 7 p.m. ET; SNW, SNP, NHL.TV
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers have won two of three games against the Vancouver Canucks. Oilers forward Lauri Korpikoski scored in overtime of a 2-1 win at Rogers Place on Oct. 18. Canucks forward Jannik Hansen scored twice in a 2-1 overtime win at Rogers Place on Dec. 26. Cam Talbot had 40 saves in a 2-0 Oilers in Edmonton on March 18.
Canucks team scope: Vancouver will try for its fourth straight win, following a nine-game losing streak. "It's always more fun to come to the rink when you're winning," Hansen said after practice Tuesday. "We've been playing well and that has to continue on the road." Forwards Chris Higgins (lower body), Sven Baertschi (lower body) and Linden Vey (upper body) did not practice. Forward Derek Dorsett didn't practice because his wife had given birth, but coach Willie Desjardins said Dorsett will join the team in Edmonton. Desjardins praised his players for continuing to compete hard, despite not qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "[The fans and media don't] know nights where guys are sick or maybe are beat up or injured, and they fight through it and have a great game," Desjardins told the Canucks website. "They don't get to see that and they just get to see if the guy played good or bad, where I get to know when the guy really went above and beyond."
Oilers team scope: Edmonton, which is 18-20-2 at home, will play its last game at Rexall Place, where the Oilers have played since 1974, when they were in the World Hockey Association. "We want to make sure that we do our part in providing [the alumni and fans] something to be proud of and an entertaining night," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website after practice Tuesday. "The effort part is something I am counting on." Edmonton has lost three straight games and three straight at home, getting outscored 10-3. "As a whole group here, I think we want to play our best here for the final game," forward Connor McDavid said. "We'd obviously like to leave this building with a bang. ...we definitely want to put together a good game here to close it out."