Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish sent a message to his team by sending forwards Jean-Francois Jacques and Robert Nilsson to the Springfield Falcons while recalling both of the leading scorers from their AHL affiliate – Rob Schremp and Zack Stortini.
“We’re going to make a few changes here, personnel wise,” MacTavish said after the game. “We’re not going to hesitate to do this with guys in their entry-level. Robert lost a little bit of his confidence and a little bit of his game so we’re going to send him down there to find it.”
MacTavish didn’t necessarily blame Nilsson and Jacques for Friday’s loss, however.
“It’s not the time of the year to start naming names and pointing fingers at guys right now. Collectively, it falls on all of us to find a way to win a hockey game,” he said, adding that he simply felt the team needed some more energy at times.
“It’s a game where your physical guys have to have a physical presence.”
That’s where Stortini comes in. In 29 games with the Oilers last season, he scored one goal – versus the Canucks – and racked up 105 penalty minutes.
“Zack was playing very well down there. We’re bringing him up for a physical presence,” MacTavish said.
With three goals and five points, Stortini leads the Falcons in both categories. He’s also been a factor on the physical side of things with 21 penalty minutes.
“The team’s doing really well,” said Stortini today from the team’s hotel in Vancouver. “We’re off to a 3-1 start down there in Springfield – great mix of guys and great chemistry.”
Although he’s been an offensive factor in Springfield, he knows why he’s in the NHL.
“The biggest thing is playing my game, being able to contribute consistently each and every night,” he said.
It was a whirlwind tour for both Schremp and Stortini. They didn’t find out about the callup until about 12:30 a.m. Springfield time and were told to be ready for an early-morning departure.
“I found out last night after the game, packed everything up and was on the 6:00 flight out of Springfield. Slept on the plane and ate well. I made sure I was well hydrated and ready to go when they need me,” Stortini said.
With the addition of Schremp, the Oilers raided the Falcons of two-thirds of their top line. Schremp was first star in last night’s 6-4 win over the Portland Pirates with three points and Stortini had a goal and an assist for third-star honours.
“We’ve gotten off to a good start in Springfield, it’s been a lot of fun. I seem to be getting some good chemistry so far, playing with Zack and Colin McDonald,” said Schremp.
It’s been a different year right off the start for Schremp and the rest of the Falcons, playing in an Oilers system with an Oilers coach.
“It’s a lot of fun playing for (Falcons head coach Kelly Buchberger). Bucky’s a great coach. He’s been keeping us focused and working hard,” Schremp stated, pointing out that a fast start was in his plans from the moment he got sent down.
“Last year it took awhile. That was my goal, to go down and get off to a good start and not wait until I get a linemate like Nilsson to light it up.”
Schremp would have been in a position to challenge Gagner and Cogliano for a roster spot during training camp but a season-ending knee injury last year in Wilkes-Barre set him back a bit. He says that’s no longer a hindrance.
“It’s felt really good. During camp it may have been a little stiff but the last couple of weeks it hasn’t been any trouble at all.”
Last season, Schremp made his NHL debut in the second last game of the season. For that reason, he wasn’t expecting a call even with his fast start.
“You really have no idea. Last year it was 79 games but I was happy to get the call last night,” he said, making note of how this is his first real chance at an NHL job. “I need to prove that I can stay here. Who knows how long it will be but I look at it as an opportunity to stick. I want to be here playing for the Oilers.”
Following a monster OHL season where he had 57 goals in 57 games for the London Knights, Schremp managed only 17 goals in 69 games in his rookie AHL campaign.
“Last year, I struggled in the ‘A’ and you start to wonder if you can even play in the Show but this year, I felt I was one of the better players off the start. I felt very confident with the puck, making plays and doing what was asked.”THE RETURN OF GAGNER
With two assists in last night’s game in his return to the Oilers lineup, Sam Gagner
wanted to ensure he didn’t head back to the press box any time soon.
“I thought he was terrific. He was our most productive forward by a long shot,” said MacTavish. “Made all kinds of plays with the puck, did a good job on the power play. Proves you don’t have to be a big guy to protect the puck and makes plays.”
MacTavish rewarded Gagner with a career high 20+ minutes of icetime and plenty of time on the power play.
“He continues to impress me with his decisions with the puck. If you want to take a positive out of the game, that’s the biggest one – the way he played.”
In an effort to spark some of the other lines, MacTavish had Gagner playing with several different players. He was out there with Torres and Stoll at times but was mainly on the top line with Horcoff and Penner by the end of the game.
“You start to get into a flow with some guys. We had three solid lines going for awhile. You just have to be ready to go with whoever you’re thrown out there with.”