After a tough morning of post-Olympic fitness testing, the Oilers took to the ice Friday for the third straight day of practice. With the next regular season game still four days away, the international competition in Vancouver continued to dominate talk in the locker room after the skate.
Vancouver native Gilbert Brule spent a few days in his hometown during the Olympic break and was impressed by the celebrations.
"It was insane downtown -- I was down there a lot. Robson Street is just all shut off, along with the big streets. It's just shoulder to shoulder people and a great atmosphere."
Along with catching a medal ceremony, Brule witnessed teammates Denis Grebeshkov and Lubomir Visnovsky face off against eachother in the Russia-Slovakia men's hockey game. When asked who he rooted for, Brule played it safe.
"It's just like whoever wins, wins," he said with a smile.
But Brule showed his true colours when asked about Friday night's Canada-Slovakia semi-final game.
"I think Slovakia's going to surprise some people but obviously I think Canada's going to win."
Fellow forward Ryan Potulny agreed that Slovakia has been a surprise and said he's cheering for Visnovsky to do well against a strong Canadian team.
"The games are very competitive and some of the teams surprised some people I think too," Potulny said. "Hopefully Lubo does good. It's good for him. What an experience to play in the Olympics and to go this far. It's good to see and I'm happy for him."
Not as happy as he'll be if the U.S. faces Canada in the gold medal final, however.
"There's a lot of pride in the game," he commented. "As you saw the first time that they played, I think both teams have some pride and I think Canada was taken aback a little by the U.S. beating them. They've came out in these last two games and they look pretty strong, so I think maybe they've got going now."
NECK & NECK, AGAIN
Ethan Moreau missed his second consecutive practice Friday morning, and Head Coach Pat Quinn later confirmed that the team captain has reaggravated a neck injury.
"He's still having trouble with his neck that he has been fighting all year long," Quinn explained. "He quipped it again apparently before practice yesterday, so our medical staff has kept him out to see if we can quiet it down. It is the same injury that bothered him earlier in the year -- just a reoccurrence of something going on in his spinal area in the neck."
Quinn expects Moreau to play Tuesday night in Nashville.
SAM DONS THE SKATES & SNEAKERS
Friday's practice marked Sam Gagner's first appearance on the ice since injuring his knee February 6 in Colorado. After the skate, Gagner made a special appearance at a Boys & Girls Club in Edmonton to announce a donation of $5,000 in sports equipment courtesy of Nike.
After signing dozens of autographs and talking with the kids, Gagner grabbed a hockey stick and fired a few pucks on net in the gym.
The Oilers took to the ice for their second post-Olympic break practice Thursday morning, and as expected, the atmosphere was relaxed at Rexall Place.
"I think guys are happy to get back," Patrick O'Sullivan said after the skate. "I think the most important thing, the thing everyone notices, is we mentally feel refreshed and excited about coming to the rink and playing the sport that we love and get to play at the highest level at."
After enjoying eight days off during the Olympic break, O'Sullivan said it feels "almost like training camp again" and the players have to ease themselves into the on-ice drills.
"I think guys are trying to get their legs under them and get back used to skating. It's amazing how much you notice being off the ice, and you try to prevent injury as much as you can and at the same time feel the puck a little bit.
"It's a little weird with not all the guys being here, but the guys that are in the Olympics haven't stopped playing, so it's our job to get back into it and be prepared for the game that we have coming up," he added.
Fellow forward Dustin Penner also has his sights set on Tuesday's return to action in Nashville.
"It's back to work for us," Penner said. "We have to get ready for the last 22 games, 21 games here because it's going to come fast and hard here in the last five, six weeks."
OLYMPIC FEVER HITS LOCKER ROOM
The Oilers fought a pair of flu outbreaks earlier this season, but this time around the club is encouraging a different kind of fever within the locker room. The Olympics were the hot topic among players, staff and media Thursday afternoon, specifically Team Canada's commanding performance vs. Russia Wednesday night.
Team Canada celebrates win over Russia Wednesday, Feb. 24.
"It seems that they're now firing on all cylinders," Penner said of Canada's men's hockey win. "It took a little while for the team to gel, and obviously after the last game they're feeling really good about their chances and so is the rest of Canada."
When asked if he is also cheering for Oilers teammates Denis Grebeshkov (Russia) and Lubomir Visnovsky (Slovakia), Penner gave the patriotic answer.
"Unfortunately for Grebber and Lubo, I'm cheering for Canada. I hope they do well but I was cheering for Canada last night."
American O'Sullivan has different allegiances but admitted Canada is the team to beat.
"The success that Canada's had in international hockey speaks for itself. It's not a mystery. And in my opinion, they have the best team at the Olympics, but it's a one-game situation and I know firsthand that a team that's not as good can beat a team that's better if you get good goaltending, if you get a timely goal or two.
"So anytime the U.S. beats Canada, it's something for the American guys to be proud of because it doesn't happen all that often."
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer
The Edmonton Oilers returned to the ice at Rexall Place for their first practice since the Olympic break began. The practice was held in the afternoon as the players got their legs back underneath them.
Head coach Pat Quinn talked about what could be expected of the players as they return to the ice following the two-week hiatus. Horcoff also discussed the break while Sam Gagner commented on his injury status.
Check out their comments in the sidebar. Author: edmontonoilers.com Staff