EDMONTON – Tonight is the much-anticipated showdown between the Oilers Rookies and the University of Alberta Golden Bears. It’s always a competitive matchup, and this year it’s certainly not lacking the star power.
The back-to-back CIS National Champion Golden Bears are eager to test themselves against the likes of Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl.
“They’re absolutely excited to test themselves against Connor and, not only Connor, but Draisaitl and Nurse,” said Golden Bears Head Coach Serge Lajoie. “These are future NHLers and not just play in the league but they’re going to be stars as well. There’s going to be an acknowledgement that they’re on the ice and they’re out there. There’s going to be a high level of awareness but we can’t change the way we play.”
On the Oilers side of things, upwards of 14,000 tickets have been sold. The event has moved to Rexall Place for the first time in its history to accommodate the excitement in the area.
“It will be a blast,” said Oilers forward and Sherwood Park native Braden Christoffer. “I’ve played here a coupe times, playing the Oil Kings. Full house or not packed house, it’s still a fun place to play either way. You get pumped up playing at home, in your hometown. Growing up and sitting in the seats of this barn, it’s pretty exciting for what’s going to happen tonight.”
This will be Nurse’s third U of A game and he’s ready to rock Rexall.
“It will definitely be fun,” said the defenceman. “I think for a lot of guys it will be their first experience with something like that. It’s going to be a lot of fun out there and the game is always pretty intense so I’m just looking forward to it.”
Oilers fans will flock to the arena to see Nurse, McDavid and Draisaitl, along with the rest of the rookies who helped the blue and orange finish with a 2-0-1 record at the Young Stars Classic last weekend in Penticton, B.C. Nurse mentions how a big name like McDavid helps hype the annual event even more.
“There is a lot of buzz around the team in general and obviously, with (McDavid) coming in as a high draft pick it’s going to be fun. He’s a lot of fun to watch on the ice so it’s going to be good to get him out there playing tonight,” said Nurse. “It’s going to be fun to have all the support and all the fans that are great to the team.”
One of the feel-good stories out of Penticton was the local product Christoffer. The former Regina Pats captain is signed on with the Oilers affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, to an AHL deal for this season.
Not only has Christoffer enjoyed realizing a childhood dream by playing for the Oilers at Rookie Camp, but he has also played well. He had three goals in as many games in Penticton. He could end his camp with four goals should he light the lamp tonight, and that would be something to celebrate in front of family and friends.
“I’m not really focused on that,” he laughed. “I just want to go out there and play hard and play well and to my strengths. If that goal comes, that’s great but that’s not really what I’m looking for. I just want to play hard and get the win for the boys here.”
Christoffer was recruited by the Golden Bears this off-season, but elected to sign on with the Condors instead. He’s excited to play against his almost team.
“I’ve played against most of these guys in the WHL for the past 3-4 years and they are older and they’ve got a little more man-strength, but I think I spent my time in the gym this summer and I don’t feel like I’m intimidated at all,” said Christoffer.
Eetu Laurikainen was the first goaltender off the ice for Edmonton.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS vs. GOLDEN BEARS
RADIO: 630 CHED
OILERS TO WATCH: The Oilers Rookie team boasts more talent than it has had in recent years. Led by 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid, 2014 third-overall pick Leon Draisaitl and 2013 seventh-overall pick Darnell Nurse, the Oilers are talent heavy. Edmonton went 2-0-1 at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C. this weekend. They finished with the top five scorers amongst the three-team event. Josh Winquist (4-1-5) and Leon Draisaitl (2-3-5) tied with five points each. Sherwood Park, AB native Braden Christoffer had three goals in as many games and his fellow AHL contract player Alexis Loiseau had two goals and two assists in two games. Kyle Platzer tied with a bunch of players in the tournament with three points (1-2-3). Edmonton hopes to get Greg Chase back from injury. The forward skated with the team on Tuesday. Jordan Papirny led the way for Edmonton goaltenders with a .912 save percentage in one full game of action. However, Eetu Laurikainen (47 saves) also had a strong Penticton tournament in 97:22 played between two games. Keven Bouchard posted a .867 save percentage in limited action.
GOLDEN BEARS TO WATCH: The Golden Bears return to the fold several key contributors to their second-straight CIS Championship team. Team Captain Kruise Reddick and Canada West Conference leading goal scorer Jordan Hickmott lead the way. The Golden Bears also have help from defencemen Jordan Rowley and Thomas Carr. Forwards Brett Ferguson, Levko Koper, Stephane Legault, Jamie Crooks and Riley Kieser also return. The University of Alberta does however have a new head coach. With Ian Herbers joining the Oilers as an assistant, Serge Lajoie takes over behind the Bears bench. Lajoie was on the Golden Bears ’92 championship team as a player.