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The Progress Report: Number Seven

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Jason Strudwick against the Calgary Flames on January 1st, 2011 (Photo by Getty Images).

For 35-year old defenceman Jason Strudwick, the name of the game is preparation. Starring in the role of the team’s seventh defenceman has meant that the veteran rearguard is often relegated to press box duty, rather than helping his mates compete in action on a nightly basis.

In 20 of the team’s 38 games this season, Strudwick has watched the action unfold 200 feet above ice level; never the position that a competitive athlete desires, but most certainly the role that the unflappable defenceman has accepted.

No matter what the situation or time of year, Strudwick needs to be ready for the call.

In similar fashion to the role of a backup goaltender, playing time is not guaranteed. Even with that in mind, the preparation and practice participation needs to be at its highest to ensure the player’s mental and physical readiness.

This is where Strudwick excels and has ultimately made his name with the Oilers organization.

Often one of the first players to take to the ice at practice, Strudwick is always eager to improve and further develop his unique skill-set. It’s a trait that’s developed through a seemingly natural competitive desire.

That maturity is a quality that goes well beyond the drills and skill development at practice. The frozen sheet at Rexall Place has become a pseudo welcome mat for young players looking to find their way. Leading the charge and helping to introduce the environment is the compassionate leadership of Jason Strudwick.

The Oilers are, after all, in a rebuilding process. Brought to the forefront amidst the on-ice development is the need for a strong leadership group to help guide the path to greatness.

With a leadership core that includes experienced veterans Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and others, Strudwick has emerged as one of the most notable standouts considering his extra curricular assistance to some of the Oilers’ young, impressionable rookies.

It began early in the season when the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi all shared a pre-practice moment with Strudwick. Potential nerves and a feeling of pressure appeared to be cast aside, as the five-minute conversations shared with Strudwick often resulted in laughter and a tap on the shin pads.

It’s a deed that has continued throughout the season, as new players welcomed into the fresh era of excitement in Oil Country are provided with a similar reception. As the Oilers took to the ice for Thursday’s morning skate, another new arrival shared a moment with Strudwick prior to the start of the 20-minute session.

Liam Reddox was on the ice at Rexall Place well before the morning skate officially got underway. In doing so, he was joined by Strudwick as they skated circles around the rink, before pausing at the visitors’ bench to convene in a more formal setting.

The two conversed for several minutes and ended their meeting, in typical Strudwick form, with a burst of laughter.

While the sequence may seem inconsequential, it was yet another example of the leadership that pulses from the locker room.  The Oilers are currently mired in a seven-game losing skid, with the assignments only getting more difficult as the team prepares to embark on another long road swing. It was the perfect opportunity for the veteran Strudwick to show the way, as the club looks to find solid ground.

The decision to re-sign Strudwick provided something the Oilers were in need of. The team was quite clearly going to allow the kids to play this season, and with the opening night roster including the likes of Theo Peckham, that much was obvious.

Still, the need for someone to play spot-duty and help mentor the kids was of great importance.
Strudwick understands his role. His entire philosophy is built around bettering his game, by bringing his upstanding work ethic and irreplaceable leadership qualities on a daily basis. All told, a mentality that revolves around what’s best for the team.

The role of the seventh defenceman hardly glamorous, but Strudwick brings an astounding level of class, professionalism and teamwork to the process. While most of his season has been spent up top, the extra commitment at practice instantly makes him a valuable contributor to the Oilers’ rebuilding efforts.

From top to bottom, this is a collaborative effort.

Strudwick has proven he’s here in help in any way he can.
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