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Tencer: Battle of Alberta Heats Up

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers electrified the Rexall Place crowd with three third-period goals en route to victory. (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)

The atmosphere last night at Rexall Place was as electric as it has been at any point since the Stanley Cup Final run in 2006. It's only Game one of 82 and the team finished in 30th after starting the year 6-2-1 last season, so that win alone doesn't secure them anything. But, my God, it was fun...and that's the point this year.

As Tom Renney continues to reiterate, even after a convincing win last night, this year is a process and there will likely be many nights where the Oilers are the bug instead of the windshield. But, the leadership inside the dressing room wants this to be a fun place to play, a fun rink to come to and a fun group to be around. Many lessons were learned last season and at the top of the list was what negative energy can do to the mood around the team.

Not every game will go as smoothly as it did last night, but if the culture shift of the team is as successful as they hope it will be, the smiles you saw last night will be permanent.


We've seen it before as Canadian hockey fans, Jordan Eberle with a clutch goal late in a hockey game to seal the deal or keep the team alive. Last night, Eberle scored one of the nicest goals that he's ever buried, shorthanded early in the 3rd period to give the Oilers a cushion.

Jordan Eberle's goal could very well end up being the goal of the year in the NHL this season. (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)
The goal came after the Oilers were on their heels for the entire 2nd period and, quite frankly, were probably lucky to still have a lead heading to the final frame.

The Eberle goal started a quick strike of 3 goals in roughly 4 minutes to bury the game and take the "W" in a no-doubt-about-it type fashion. Not all of Jordan's goals are going to be the highlight reel magnitude of that one, but that one in particular demonstrates the confidence that a young player needs to be successful in the NHL. It was a gutsy move that he made look easy and there was no hesitation at any point during the rush.

Taylor Hall said after the game that he knew exactly what move was coming and was sure as soon as Eberle hit the blue-line that the score was going to be 2-0. If these young, skill players are going to succeed, they need to have the confidence to try what Eberle tried last night.


As one of the major X-Factor's heading into the season for this team, it was nice to see Nikolai Khabibulin start strong with a 37 save shutout last night. The greatest single reason why the season went the way it did last year was the loss of Khabibulin after just 18 games and if this team is going to try to be the 2011 version of the Colorado Avalanche, they'll need Khabibulin to play close to that level for 55 or 60 games. Again, 1 game is 1 game, but for his first regular season start since November, that was a great sign.


I'm going to get to the Steve MacIntyre fight in a moment, but first a shout-out to Ryan Jones and Colin Fraser and Theo Peckham for playing an abrasive, scrappy game last night. Jones set the tempo early with a couple of big bumps on Calgary players and a spirited scrap with Flames forward Stefan Meyer. To be considered a hard team to play against, you need to have multiple players available to fit this role, and the team demonstrated last night that they've got some willing combatants.


Steve MacIntyre's fight with Raitis Ivanans brought Rexall Place into a frenzy. (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)
One of the highlights of the game for the Oilers and their fans came with less than 3 minutes to go when Steve MacIntyre squared off with Raitis Ivanans, in response to a high-stick that Ivanans gave Magnus Paajarvi a few shifts prior. Before I get too deep, let me just point out that if the officials on the ice had called a 4 minute penalty on the play, made the correct call instead of no call, Ivanans might not have ended up on his back with his eyes glazed over.

Anyway, back to the fight. MacIntyre made it clear after the game that if an opposing player gets out of line, purposely or not, around his teammates...well...he's there for a reason. “When somebody gets the stick in the face like that you have to go out there and say ‘You’re going to be accountable,” MacIntyre told the Edmonton Sun. “That’s the way it goes. Two big guys and somebody’s going to get hit.”

A few shifts before the stick to the face of Paajarvi, Ivanans laid a lick on Gilbert Brule in the corner. Brule didn't return to the game and didn't practice today with the team. Even so, the detractors of heavyweight fighting in the game, led today by TSN's Bob McKenzie, are declaring: "I still don't get the point." McKenzie went further on his Twitter account this afternoon, mocking the fight as "senseless". Bob's one of the most respected voices in the game and has probably forgotten more about the game than I'll ever come to know, but I think he's flat wrong on this issue.

In fairness, Bob might just might not be close enough to the situation to understand the desperation around this Oilers hockey team to reclaim their dignity, especially in the Battle of Alberta as Calgary swept them last year.

The point is that next time the opposition comes in contact with one of the skilled players on the Oilers team, they just might watch themselves a little more closely. The next time that Steve MacIntyre is on the ice, or on the bench, they just might look over their shoulder from time to time. And, as MacIntyre suggested, it is at very least a measure of accountability if not a deterrent. I've had a number of NHL players tell me that the Oilers were a laughably easy mark last year because they weren't skilled, weren't cohesive and weren't tough.

The message is obvious, and it's powerful. Hit Brule if you want. High-stick Magnus if you want. But, realize that this year, the punching bag is ready to punch back.


If I can be candid, let me inform you that the Oilers are in danger of having their 197 game sell-out streak end on Sunday when the Florida Panthers come to town. Fans in Oil Country are the best in the league, as demonstrated by the fact that all 41 games last year during a last place season were sold out. So, I won't preach about buying tickets to help keep the streak alive or list off all the reasons why I think you should make time to go. I'll just leave you with the knowledge that there are plenty of good seats still available and you can purchase them without leaving the web site.

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