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ROOKIE CAMP: Local prospects share hometown pride in WEM experience

The local connections of prospects Tyler Benson, Stuart Skinner and camp invite Liam Keeler were shared throughout Rookie Camp before culminating at West Edmonton Mall on Wednesday

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - It was a unique experience, to say the least, for some.

But others were in their local element.

When the Oilers Rookies took to the ice for their final practice of Rookie Camp at West Edmonton Mall on Wednesday afternoon, there were plenty of stunned and intrigue looks from multiple prospects when looking up at giant skylights and fans flanking the Ice Palace's perimeter.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Rookie Wrap-Up 09.11.19

"I've never really seen something quite like this," Michigan-born forward Cooper Marody said following the open practice. "It's a rink in a mall, so it's something that we got really excited for and something I think the fans enjoyed."

Local boys Tyler Benson, Stuart Skinner, and camp invite Liam Keeler from the Edmonton Oil Kings have frequented the mall's stores and attractions countless times throughout their years, and were no strangers to the ice surface from their days competing in youth hockey.

"There's always going to people watching even if you're a kid or our age," Skinner, the former goaltender in the SWAT peewee program, said. "So it's definitely special for me. I'm always walking around here."

Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Stuart Skinner 09.11.19

The Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament is an annual coming together of some of hockey's brightest young talent, and it'd been over a decade since Benson skated in one of North America's most unique rinks.

"This was the first time I got to skate on here since the gold medal game and winning it, so it was pretty cool being out here again and definitely brings back memories," Benson said.

"It's cool for us to get the chance to skate around in front of these fans here in this rink. It's good they're showing their support and it definitely makes it more enjoyable."

It's rare to see a coming together of so many products of the Edmonton minor hockey system under the banner of their hometown club, and the prospects shared in the unique experience of being within touching distance of pulling on the Blue & Orange of the club they grew up cheering for.

"It's pretty cool to have all of us coming from the same organization playing here," Benson said.

 Video: ROOKIE CAMP | Tyler Benson 09.11.19

The session still carried a regular intensity for Head Coach Jay Woodcroft despite a change of setting and a few tired legs from a 3-1 defeat in Calgary the night prior, but the Condors bench boss hopes the foundation for a strong showing from players advancing to Oilers Main Camp in the coming days has been laid. 

"Today was a little bit of a different day coming to West Edmonton Mall, I think it added a little bit of bounce in everyone's step to have the people watching, and we had a good crisp practice," he said. "I think the players have done well and they're going to set themselves up to progress into Main Camp. As you know, it's a little bit of a different animal when you're going against men and career-professional players. It's going to get competitive in the next day or so.

"I'm anxious to see how these young guys accept this challenge and progress moving forward."

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