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THE TEAM TODAY: 'Dub' Experience

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers


Camp has begun. The Edmonton Oilers Rookies boarded an early-morning charter to Kelowna, where an up-tempo practice was conducted at Prospera Place along the area's prestine lakeside.

It’s only Day 1 at Rookie Camp as the Young Stars Tournament begins, but the group has already noticed a pre-existing edge.

In total, the Oilers’ contingent is composed of 16 WHL players. It’s a unique circumstance, but one that could very well help in Penticton.

“We were talking in the dressing room about how we had a WHL team out there,” laughed Drew Czerwonka, sixth-round pick in 2010 and member of the Kootenay Ice.

“We’re representing really well and I know pretty much everyone here. You could feel the chemistry in the room this morning and it's going to carry over into the tournament for sure; we have an advantage.”

Some have it better than others. The Oilers have invited Red Deer Rebels winger Brett Ferguson to camp, who played with the team’s No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last year.

“Even in the locker room, the guys were messing around and having fun,” he said. “The camaraderie is awesome. I've only been here one day and it's been really amazing. It's great to have those guys around because we can share our experiences and talk about the league. We're all hoping we can build on that as the week progresses.

“Being here with Ryan (Nugent-Hopkins) is also very cool. He's incredible, I don't have to tell anybody that. He's an awesome player and an awesome guy. He's only going to get better every day. It would be an honour to play with him this week.”

Oklahoma City Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson will be manning the Oilers’ bench this week, and he understands the importance of building team chemistry in short order.

“Like any all-star team, you only have one practice to build a team,” he explained. “You've got to come together real quick. They got to know each other the other day, but it's basically only three days and they're in the grind tomorrow. The quicker they come together, the better our chance is to have success.”

At 6’0” and 185 pounds, Ferguson plays a solid, two-way game with a scoring touch that helped him record 23 goals and 61 points with the Rebels in 2010-11.

“I work hard and am tough to play against,” he said. “That's something I need to bring to the table; making sure that I'm not changing my game.

“There's a reason I'm here and I've got to keep doing what's made me have success in the WHL, and bring it out here on a larger scale.”

Doing so should help 21-year-old earn a longer look at camp.

“I'm going to do everything I can,” Ferguson said. “I have to show them that having me around is going to improve the team, because those are the players they want to keep."

Drew Czerwonka at the Mastercard Memorial Cup Tournament (Getty Images).
It’s only been one practice, but the pace at this morning’s session was high and the players are bringing an equally as intense mindset heading into tomorrow’s matchup with the Vancouver Canucks Rookies.

“It was really good,” Czerwonka said. "It was nice to get out there. The guys looked really good and everyone was communicating with each other, so that's a plus. I think everyone is excited to be here and show what we’ve got out there. The energy is unreal.

“I know I need to be a physical presence this week,” he added.

Scoring 13 goals and 43 points last season in Kootenay, Czerwonka helped his club reach the Memorial Cup; and, although the experience ended on a sour note, it’s helped him prepare for another NHL camp.

“There are so many good teams and players here to play against,” he said. “You can see how much faster and stronger you have to be to compete at this level. It's going to be a challenge to accomplish, but I’m going to make it happen.”

Practice notes: Milan Kytnar did not skate today (ankle). The Oilers' third round pick in 2011 and Edmonton Oil King Travis Ewanyk did not make the trip to BC because of a nagging shoulder.

Here are the line combinations run at practice:

The action gets underway tomorrow as the Oilers go head-to-head with the Canucks at 8:30pm MT. The game can be seen LIVE right here on


Bright and early Friday morning, the Oilers Rookies were bussed to Rexall Place, rolling deep as the team prepares to begin the 2011-12 season at the second annual Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC.

Yes, hockey is back.

In a two-hour circuit that saw the crew dart from station to station, medical exams were completed, roster photos were snapped, and a new challenge was emphatically presented. They’re Oilers, and they’ll be representing the team’s orange and royal blue colours against NHL rivals over the next week.

“It's good to see the young fellas back in here,” said a chipper Tom Renney. “It's been a while since Development Camp and some of them we haven't seen at all, so it makes for an exciting week.”

Following a 30th place standing last season, Renney is eager to turn things around in his second season as the team's head coach.

“You can't help but get excited about the Oilers' situation in general,” he smiled. “We were excited last year at this time for making a decision to take a certain path.

"To continue on with that, you see more very good young players in the mix. It’s exciting.”

Over the summer, the Oilers made several moves to acquire seasoned veterans. Ryan Smyth, Andy Sutton and Eric Belanger helped accomplish that, and it appears to be a theme carrying over the team’s already loaded prospect pool as well.

Heading into Penticton, Edmonton boasts an impressive mix of newcomers and those with pro experience. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, naturally, is among the wide-eyed group, looking to make a strong first impression. On the other side, rugged blueliner Colten Teubert has already played 77 pro games across the ECHL and AHL.

Head Coach Tom Renney will attend the Young Stars Tournament this week.
The veteran leadership, Renney says, is “invaluable.”

“I think it's critical,” he said of building harmony. “I'm a big fan of team chemistry, obviously. This is a team.

"We're going to Penticton and, sure, everyone's going to get a chance to play hockey and play a couple games at the very least, but I'd like to go win.

“In order to do that, we've got to have leadership from those people that are capable of offering that up and strong, solid, honest participation from others along the way. That's how you evaluate what you have. We hope that every single guy that puts the jersey on over the next week is desperate to win.”

Teubert will be counted on to provide that veteran presence, but he’ll also be a ruthless opponent for the Flames, Canucks and Jets. In his mind, the goal is to play simple and not overexpose any weaknesses by taking chances.

“If you're doing too much and getting noticed for the wrong reasons, then you're in the doghouse for sure,” he explained. “Under the radar, unless it's a big hit and you’re good.

“I need to play my normal game, play physical. Everyone’s running around at 100mph trying to make an impression, so you can’t be too flashy.

“I'm going to play solid, be consistent and help these young guys out.”

All eyes will, naturally, be on the team’s No. 1 overall pick. Nugent-Hopkins has had a busy summer, making a sparkling introduction at July’s Development Camp at Millennium Place. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to rest up and continue his path of building strength, stamina and other NHL attributes.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make an impression and stand out to the coaches," he said. "I’m going to go there and play my game, play as well as I can.

“I watched all the [Young Stars] highlights last year and I saw how well some of the guys did. I’m very excited and I think we should do pretty well there.”

“He's a superior kid in every way,” Renney said of Nugent-Hopkins. “It's about strength; and not physical strength, it's about the mental strength and being able to assert your will when you need to.

“My impression of him early is that he has that capacity, but only time will tell. This is quite a process that he's involved in, too, and we're going to respect that.”

Supported by a staff of willing coaches and keen teammates, Nugent-Hopkins is ready to step up and become an NHL player.

He’s almost there.

“[I feel like an Oiler] more and more,” he said. “I’ve watched the Battle of Alberta so much over the years, so I’m really excited to actually play in it next week. It’s going to be awesome.”

The challenge for Nugent-Hopkins and the others begins tomorrow when the team will charter to the interior, practice in Kelowna and settle that night in Penticton before the Young Stars quest commences.

All games will be streamed LIVE on

Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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