MOUNTAIN MEN “We’ve done so much,” Ryan Jones said in crisp and cool Jasper, AB Tuesday. “It’s been really awesome. Everyone’s loving it.”
The team’s three-day trip to the Rocky Mountains has, indeed, been a week to remember. From up-tempo, on-ice sessions to mountain biking, dinners and everything in between, Oil Country’s heroes have already bonded with some memorable, long-lasting moments.
And, as you’d expect, boys will be boys.
“We decided we were going to turn into elk stalkers last night,” Theo Peckham said. “I mean, I blend into the night, so I was creeping up.
“We were having a good time. It was all in good fun.”
The average elk (or wapiti) weighs approximately 500 pounds, a mere 329 more than the Oilers’ No. 1 overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“You know what? You'd be very surprised with the guys I've seen chase down the elk,” Jones said. “There's this one guy – and I won’t say his name, but he may have been picked really high in June – who made a move yesterday.
“You’d never expect to see such a quiet, humble guy like that chase down such a big animal, but he really wanted it. There might have been a bet involved, too.”
Nugent-Hopkins’ on-ice skill is undeniable, but as Peckham explains, success in the wilderness is whole other ball game.
“It's tough, you've got to track them and learn their patterns. An ordinary man would crumble under the pressure, no doubt.”
“We have a guide, so worst-case scenario, we let them deal with it,” Jones added. “We get to rip through the woods. You don't even have to be an outdoorsy person to respect how big they are, so avoiding an attack was key. I think we did pretty well.
“The Swedish guys (Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark) all want to see some bears. It seems like everyone has an animal that they want to catch in the wilderness.”
With the Oilers’ 2011-12 season opening on Sunday, having the opportunity to bond, build relationships and share some laughs has been an invaluable time; this comes in addition to the team’s one-hour, early-morning practices.
“We’re usually a little stressed during camp,” Jones said. “Everyone is trying to buckle down and get ready for the season. This has been an extension, in a sense. We get to relax a little, but getting to know everyone, especially the new guys, has been really cool.
“These are the guys we’re going to spending the next year with, so we’re trying to take advantage of this opportunity as best we can.”
Peckham agreed, adding that 14-year NHL veteran Andy Sutton, with whom he shares a bench in the team’s locker room in Jasper, has been a riot.
“He's a great guy, a real character and getting to know him a little bit has been awesome,” he said. “We’ve got some new faces in here, so getting to know each other some more is going to help us out in the long run.
“It’s been great. It’s been so nice to spend this time with everyone.”
The commute isn't too bad, either.
A city’s early-morning rush hour is a necessary evil, but when you’re several hours away amid mountainous hills and autumn skies, the back-to-basics approach is never a bad one.
“We get up in the morning, hop on a bike and ride to the rink,” Jones said. “It's really cool. We wouldn't normally get to do something like this, so I’m loving every minute.
“We had a little outing on the links yesterday, Ryder Cup style. My team didn’t end up winning, sadly. Even then, we had a good time.”
“We had a team-building event last night at dinner, which was pretty cool,” Peckham added. “We haven't been here that long, but it seems like it's been a week already. We've done so much together and it’s been a great time.”
Oct. 9 hasn’t arrived yet, but the 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers have already embraced passion and teamwork. It's certainly a good vibe heading into the new year.
-- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick