ON THE ICE
Following arguably the toughest day of the year -- medicals & fitness testing -- the Oilers strapped on their skates Saturday morning for the first on-ice sessions.
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With hundreds of fans filling up on a free pancake breakfast and over 5,000 filling the stands, the first group of 21 players took to the ice.
Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, and Ales Hemsky skated together, as did Teemu Hartikainen, Liam Reddox, and Zack Stortini.
On the blue line, Ryan Whitney teamed up with rookie Jeff Petry, Jason Strudwick with Jeremie Blain, and Brandon Davidson with Jordan Bendfeld. Devan Dubnyk and Bryan Pitton manned the pipes.
Following the skate, Whitney admitted he was a bit rusty but said everyone will improve as camp progresses.
"Everyone's been skating but today's just a little up-tempo compared to the skates we've been having on our own," he explained. "It's good to get the first skate out of the way and just to go over things the way we did, instead of scrimmaging and going out there and killing each other. We really learned some new things and I think that's what's going to be good for us."
"Obviously first day of training camp, you're trying to get used to the pace and the intensity and I felt like it was a good pace out there. Guys were moving and you're just hoping to get better every day of training camp."
The second group took to the ice at 10:15am, led by the line of Magnus Paajarvi, Andrew Cogliano, and Gilbert Brule. Jeff Deslauriers, Nikolai Khabibulin and Tyler Bunz took turns in net.
For Paajarvi, Saturday's skate marked his first main training camp experience. Despite being among the youngest guys on the ice, the Swedish forward was comfortable skating with the veterans.
"I've been playing with men for three years now, so that difference is not going to be that big for me I think," he said. "It goes faster obviously -- it's older guys -- but it's alright. The drills were pretty much the same as for the rookie tournament so I was pretty comfortable out there."
10 years Paajarvi's senior, Alexandre Giroux has a wealth of pro hockey experience. After three years in the deep Washington Capitals organizaion, the 29-year-old is hoping for a fresh start with the Oilers.
"Washington was a tough team to crack up there; they had so much talent up front.," he explained. "This summer, I was looking to find a team I had a chance to play in. Edmonton was the right fit for me and we'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks."
For many fans, it was worth the wait to see the final group of Oilers take to the ice. For the first time ever, first-overall draft pick Taylor Hall donned his Oilers jersey and stepped on the ice at Rexall Place. Hall was joined by Shawn Horcoff at centre and Jordan Eberle on the right side.
On the back end, the high-flying top line was supported by a group of experienced defencemen. Summer acquisitions Jim Vandermeer and Kurtis Foster skated together, as did Ladislav Smid and Taylor Chorney.
Swedish import Linus Omark stood out in the skate, powering up the ice and dominating some drills. Another highlight was when Hall's quick snapshot shattered a pane of glass behind Olivier Roy's net.
"I didn't know I had that kind of shot in me. Maybe all the beach workouts I've been doing all summer, but it was definitely a fun practice," Hall said with a smile.
Although Hall and Eberle have played plenty together, Horcoff was a new addition to their line. All players were pleased with the combination.
"Taylor, he's a guy that's got a ton of speed," Horcoff said. "With that speed, you're going to want to give him the puck. And with Jordan, he's got a great shot and he's got a lot of really good hockey sense and seems to be a really good overall player.
"So I think for me in the middle, it's just going to be a matter of trying to support those guys as much as possible, support the puck, and get it to them when they're open because they're guys that think the game at a high level offensively."
Hall is thankful for Horcoff's veteran advice on the ice and off.
"Any chance I got to ask him a question or anything, he's always very polite. He knows what it's like to be a young guy, and for them to put us with me and Ebs, it's a pretty good honour and something that's going to help us out."
The whole Oilers crew returns to the ice Sunday when they hold three practice sessions at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park.
|Colin Fraser |
In another edition of our fan question series, Matt Dwyer of Medicine Hat submitted a question for Colin Fraser.
MATT: "You played for Red Deer in the WHL. How does it feel to be back in Oil Country, playing for the Oilers?"
COLIN: "It feels really good. I live in Sylvan Lake now in the off-season so it's as close to home as I'm going to get. I'm excited to be back in Canada, for one, and to be part of the rebuilding process here. I'm really excited. I just want to get going here -- I just want to start playing some hockey games!"
Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Tom Gazzola