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GENE'S BLOG: The Start of Something

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the Oilers first successful road trip of the 2019-20 campaign

by Gene Principe /

I know you can't win every game or at least not every game during an NHL season. You can have a team go undefeated in football like, for example, the Miami Dolphins did during the 1972 season. They are the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl with a perfect season (14-0).

In hockey, it just doesn't happen. You can get some really long winning or undefeated streaks like Philadelphia had during the 1979-80 season. The Flyers went 35 games without a loss (25-0-10). The streak started Oct.14,1979 and didn't end until Jan. 6, 1980. Back then a tie finished as a tie. 

There was no tie on Monday night but it looked like there was going to be another successful comeback after James Neal scored his eighth goal of the season and sixth on the power play to cut Chicago's lead in half. 

Video: Blackhawks top Oilers for first win of season

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GENE'S BLOG: The Big Apple

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the Oilers upcoming three-game, five-night stay in New York and how players will be using their downtime in the city

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - It's the city so nice they named it twice.

New York is like no other city in North America and quite likely the world. No wonder they call it the city that never sleeps. It doesn't matter what time of day or night or anywhere in between, there are people pacing, driving, running, talking and moving, which makes it so vibrant. Not to mention the taxis and the honking that seemingly never stops. There's a rush and a vibe associated with New York that you won't find in any of the other 30 NHL cities, and it's where the Oilers will spend the next six days. 

Their travel plans changed a little with their Tuesday night game moved from Brooklyn to Long Island, but after that, the team will hunker down in one Manhattan hotel and set themselves up for a week that starts against the Islanders, continues against the Devils, and finishes up versus the Rangers. It's the right way to do it if you're a team with three opponents a short bus ride from each other. In the fast-paced world of pro sports where it's city, hotel, game, plane and repeat, it's nice to settle in, unpack, and have a place to call home for more than a night.

I'm not a big walker, but New York is the one city I don't mind roaming on foot. There are people to see, places to go, and shopping to be done on street corners. The Oilers won't have much time for sightseeing, but instead of locking themselves into a hotel room they can head out and do a little exploring. You can bet Gaetan Haas will be doing that, and who can blame him? First off, his family will be in NY for one game and he'll be there for the first time.

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GENE'S BLOG: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the decisions looming for the Oilers coaching staff ahead of Wednesday's season opener

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - The pre-season is done but the work on crafting the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers isn't. 

Even if the exhibition season wrapped up on a Saturday night in Calgary, Sunday was certainly not a day of rest. Well, a day of rest for the players but not for the management and staff. 

Instead, they would be talking, discussing, meeting and eventually deciding - by at the latest 3:00 PM on Tuesday - what the opening night roster will look like when Vancouver comes to town on Wednesday to kick off the regular season. 

I have to say this camp has felt and looked different than previous ones.

The look is always different when the off-season brings in a new general manager and a new coach, but I think what is most noticeable is a new way of thinking. By now we know Training Camp is no longer the place where you get in shape. 

It's where you go to get in even better shape. However, like most NHL teams, a lot of roster spots are spoken for even before the first video session or skate. The Oilers certainly have players that aren't going anywhere for a long, long time (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl come to mind) but they have also taken a very open-minded approach to players hunting for jobs. 

I would point to Ken Holland and Dave Tippett for being the leaders of this attitude adjustment. Before Camp began, both men were clear in stating there would be an open competition and they've followed through with that mindset. It's made Camp competitive. It's allowed players who came into September on the outside an opportunity to begin October on the inside. There's no mistaking the clarity and honesty that started at the top and is filtering its way into the minds of the men trying to make the team.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game at CGY 09.28.19

I look at Ethan Bear as Exhibit A. 

I'm sure he couldn't Bear to watch another camp go by with a one-way ticket to Bakersfield. Instead, he not only might start the season on the team but also on the blueline around on October 2. He's impressed with his play and his commitment to being an NHLer. It's clear he's not gone unnoticed or unrewarded. 

Exhibit B: I think it was clear the Oilers would have one Russell (Kris) on the roster, but did anyone think there might be another one named Patrick? 

There could be and it has a lot to do with him and his willingness to play a role but also the open-mindedness of those making up the roster.

There has been a European invasion (Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas, Joel Persson), a Detroit connection ( Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan) and throw in a former Cup champion (Josh Archibald). An example of filling out the roster and raising the competition level. 

It's made for an interesting Training Camp with more decisions, decisions, decisions to be made.

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GENE'S BLOG: Rocket Man

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about Leon Draisaitl's history with Kelowna and the WHL's Rockets

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - The Edmonton Oilers are used to traveling into B.C. during September. From 2010 until 2017 the team would make a trip to Penticton as part of their training camp schedule. An extra-long weekend spent in the interior of B.C. playing in the Young Stars Tournament was always a sunny way to start the hockey season. 

While the Oilers may get back to that event or something like it next year, in 2019 there would be another September swing through wine country. Under the cover of darkness and after a 6-2 win over Calgary on Friday night, the team arrived in Kelowna.

The weekend, as explained by Head Coach Dave Tippett, would start with a day off on Saturday. A chance for the team and a few extras to hang out and do some bonding. 

Sunday is a practice day. Sunday night is a team dinner. On Monday, another practice, followed by a flight home to resume the pre-season portion of their schedule. 

A nice, short getaway before it's crunch time for final cuts and the start of a new season. The one-hour flight from Edmonton to Kelowna doesn't depict the amount of time traveled by Leon Draisaitl from the Western Hockey League team he played for before eventually re-joining the Edmonton Oilers.

It was around this time last season that Leon was taking a trip down memory lane. The Deutschland Dangler with the chance to go home to Cologne. Play against his father while being reminded of where it all got started. Here we are a year later and a return to another place that has meant a lot to the young forward.

"It's like going back to where it all started," Draisaitl said. Seems a little funny to hear that considering he had already put together a 105-point season in Prince Albert and was the Oilers third-overall pick in 2014.

It's hard to believe and actually, remember, how a 50-goal, 105-point Oiler from a season ago started his NHL career at a different pace. 

He was a rookie and after 37 games in Edmonton and a stat line of two goals and seven assists, the Oilers made a decision... A big decision.

They were going to send Draisaitl back to junior hockey. 

"At the time it was tough," Draisaitl explained. 

Who could blame him for feeling that way? But he never, ever let it impact his play or his development. Instead, he turned his time in Kelowna into exactly what Edmonton wanted. The next step towards greatness. 

"I thought it was good for me and it helped me become an impact player in the NHL," said the 23-year-old.

The sometimes centre slash winger took off with the Rockets. He had 19 goals and 53 points in just 32 games. Along with personal success, his Rocket teammates were also taking off. 

Kelowna made it through all other WHL opponents and advanced to the Memorial Cup. Leon played in 19 playoff games and added another 28 points to his resume to snag post-season MVP honours.

He put up seven more points in five games at the Memorial Cup to win the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as top scorer and the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP. Everything went as planned until the final, when Kelowna lost in overtime 2-1 to Oshawa.

"It was not the end we wanted but I had a great time on a really good team," is the way Draisaitl described his short but sweet stay with Kelowna.

It seems so long ago but the memories will slowly trickle back upon Leon's return to Kelowna. Since he left, the young man blossomed into a 50-goal man. He plans on seeing his old billets and then focusing on a new season. 

It will be the next chance for the one time Rocket Man to have a blast with the Edmonton Oilers.

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GENE'S BLOG: Time to go camping

In his first blog of the season, Gene Principe sets the stage for the 2019-20 season

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - It wasn't exactly a great summer around Edmonton. We had lots of rain and, at times, torrential downpours. 

It reminded me more of the type of weather you might get in a hot and humid environment like Florida. Unfortunately, we didn't have the hot and the humid before the skies opened up. I have enough trouble with sports so I probably shouldn't be trying to dissect the weather. 

The way June, July and August went, a lot of people changed their weekend or week-long camping trips. However, I have a new campsite for you. It's big enough to hold trailers but I don't suggest you bring one. There is power and mosquitoes are almost non-existent. Bring the marshmallows and wieners as we can always find a place to safely start a fire. The campground is huge and is covered. You may recognize the name - Rogers Place.

Beginning on Thursday, Training Camp for the Edmonton Oilers gets underway. Names you know and ones you don't will arrive trying to make a name for themselves and make the team. Some are locks while others will try to find the key to unlocking a spot on the 2019-20 Oilers. 

It is the most wonderful time of the year to borrow a phrase from the Christmas holidays. Everyone is excited. I mean everyone. I can't get gas, pick up groceries or go anywhere in the city without people wanting to talk hockey, specifically the Oilers. They politely say "hello" and almost before you have dished out your answer they start asking about the team. An Oilers fans is a knowledgeable one. They have enjoyed watching the summer moves, studying leftover analytics, digesting what's left in cap space and now they want to talk about it.

The biggest off-season on-ice move involved Milan Lucic and James Neal. Two players who will swap area codes but both will keep the AB on their home address. In chatting with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer, he wanted a two-word answer on how many goals Neal will score this season. The first word is "thirty." The second word is "four."

Video: RAW | Ken Holland 09.11.19

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GENE'S BLOG: That's a Wrap

In his latest blog, Gene Principe wraps up the Oilers season

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - As the playoffs begin Wednesday night, it will feel a little lonely for fans of the Edmonton Oilers. 

They won't have their favourite team to cheer for during the opening evening in the chase for the Stanley Cup. It's not what the organization wanted or expected. There isn't a single one of the 31 teams that doesn't believe they will be in the chase for the Cup. When the squads get whittled down to a more manageable 16 there are still 15 who are left standing on the outside. The Oilers are one of them this season but I firmly believe they won't be one next season. 

Video: RAW | Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky

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GENE'S BLOG: Uncovering Connor

In his latest blog, Gene tells the story of when Sam Gagner was asked to skate with a young and almost undiscovered Connor McDavid

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - "Connor McDavid, remember that name" was a call made by legendary play-by-play man Bob Cole after Connor had scored one of his 128 NHL goals.

They are five simple words which include the name of the game's greatest player or one of the greatest. The purpose of those five words isn't to start a debate on who is hockey's best but to set up a story on the Edmonton Oilers player who first saw Connor McDavid on the ice. 

While he was been watched from the youngest of ages all the way to present day, the one who uncovered Connor was Sam Gagner.

"My trainer at the time was Dan Ninkovich. He was training some minor hockey teams and he said there's this kid you should see," Gagner recalls. "He (Dan) said, 'Do you want to skate with him? Because he is going to be the next best thing. He is at a different level.'" 

Well, give Dan credit because he had an eye for talent even back then. You have to remember this was a decade ago when Gagner took Ninkovich up on the offer.

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GENE'S BLOG: Friends and Foes

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about friends-turned-foes Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon dropping the gloves

by Gene Principe /

ST. LOUIS, MO - It was about 25-30 minutes after the game on Tuesday night when standing outside in the hallway having a chat were Zack Kassian and Pat Maroon. 

Not something out of the ordinary. Former teammates and current friends having the chance to catch up and find out how their respective seasons are going. Check in on the kids, with Pat having a boy named Anthony, and Zack recently becoming a father with Ellery. It was something you see around the League with every team. You often hear athletes of many sports say they're friends off the ice but not friends on the ice. Well, I think there was a great example of that from Kassian and Maroon on Tuesday. 

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game at STL 03.19.19

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GENE'S BLOG: Benning-ficial

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about Matt Benning's performance in his past few outings

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - Matt Benning has had quite a week. 

In fact, quite a season for the local boy.

Lots have been going on this year and one way or the other he's been able to take it all in and push forward to playing the best hockey of his young career. During a time where the Oilers want stability on defence the young man has been able to provide it. He certainly has benefited from the return of Andrej Sekera but having a veteran saddled up beside him has allowed Benning to relax and feel more confident. Anyone of us would or should be better at our jobs when we get some help and that help allows us to take our time and do things right. It's what Benning has been doing to finish off this season.

Video: NJD@EDM: McDavid gets 100th point on Benning goal

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GENE'S BLOG: Road Trip

In his latest blog, Gene Principe looks back on the team's successful five-game trip

by Gene Principe / Special to

It started February 24th and ended March 5th. In the wee hours of the morning, the Edmonton Oilers were scheduled to arrive home from the last leg of their trip. After four hours and two thousand one hundred and sixty five miles in the air, the journey was complete or least the trip was. The journey continues for Edmonton. Unlike the NHL schedule, which is laid out in the summer and tells you exactly where you'll be, when you'll be there and what time the puck will be dropped, this journey is different. It can only lead the Oilers to one of two places: it's either the playoffs or the off season.

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