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PRINCIPE: Making a Racquet

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers

Nail Yakupov was the first to mention it and then even former Edmonton Oiler David Perron talked about it. The ping pong table was back in the Oilers room. Yakupov, after Wednesday's morning skate, mentioned he had been playing Nuge and was beaten by RNH in a match of hand-to-hand combat. Nail went onto say that he would be looking for some revenge in their next match up. Even if he lost, it looked like Yakupov had fun hanging out with Nugent-Hopkins.

I know it's only a ping pong game but time spent together can't be a bad thing. Instead of sitting in your stall on twitter, instagram or texting people, how about some good old fashioned one-on-one time?

These days, whether it's little boys and girls to grandma's and grandpa’s, almost all of us spend too much time on our phone. Some is business, some is pleasure and some is just time wasting. With that in mind, the return of the ping pong table is a sign that the Oilers room is being put back into the hands of the players.

It started when Todd Nelson took over, but the ping pong table is a long standing tradition of the Oilers. They aren't the only team that has one, but it's been a centrepiece of fun for the almost 17 years that I have covered the team. I can't tell you how many times, as we loitered in the room for a final interview, the players would be waiting for us to exit so they could enter into some 'mano a mano' ping pong. In fact, they weren't shy to try and nudge us out. Racquets in hand, ping pong ball sitting in their stall and all that was left to do was break out the table.

In my opinion, the room and area around it is that of the players. It is where they prepare to work, where they return to make game plan changes, a place where they celebrate or commiserate depending on the result. I know the head coach and his staff spend some time in the confines of the room but they are just kind of passing by. They'll make a speech, break down some video and walk through it to get elsewhere. However, they don't sit there minute after minute, hour after hour and day after day. While they have a stall or their own locker in the players lounge, it's where their equipment sits, where they work on their sticks,skates and their equipment. It's their home away from home.

To me, it's like a home. Let's say the GM and coach are 'the parents' and the players are 'the kids'. The kids have their own room and they can do what they want with it as long as the parents give it the OK. I think that should be the case with an NHL dressing room. The players should take ownership of that area under the supervision and clearance of coaches and management. It's another sign of Todd Nelson's ability to balance being their boss but to also being their friend or confidant. I don't think I have ever written or might ever write an entire article on a ping pong table. It's not just what it is but what it stands for. It's a sign of a team bouncing back on the ice and in the room and making a racquet that no one minds.

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