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The Team Today: Same lines, new gear

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers


The Oilers continued to prepare for Saturday's season-opener with another lengthy practice at Rexall Place Wednesday morning. Coaches maintained Tuesday's line combinations, hilighted by J.F. Jacques, Shawn Horcoff, and Ales Hemsky on the top line and Sam Gagner skating on the fourth line with Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini.


For the second day, Jeff Deslauriers donned his new pads, blocker, and glove for practice Wednesday. The new bright orange Reebok gear supplements the copper-coloured equipment he wore last year and will be worn with the vintage jersey this season.

"Somebody close to me just threw the idea at me, I considered it and said why not," the goalie explained after practice. "It's a bit more colourful and I'll try it."

Deslauriers says that after this week's practices, the new pads will be broken in by the weekend.


Longtime Toronto Maple Leaf Mats Sundin announced his retirement this morning, and former coach Pat Quinn had kind words to say about the star forward.

"It was a great experience to have him on a team that I was involved with. He was a gentleman, he was a wonderful athlete, he was a good captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and certainly was an honest, everyday performer that was very dependable.

"Internationally, he was a top player as well, and certainly was one of the key reasons the Swedes were winners in Torino," Quinn said.



In the morning's first drill, Edmonton's most-productive line in the final pre-season game remained intact, with Shawn Horcoff anchoring Ales Hemsky and J.F. Jacques.

Hemsky left the ice soon after the drill, and team staff confirmed a pulled groin was the reason for his early departure. There was no confirmation on whether he will play Saturday vs. Calgary.

Patrick O'Sullivan, Mike Comrie, and Ryan Stone skated together on the second line, while Dustin Penner, Gilbert Brule, and Andrew Cogliano formed the third. Sam Gagner dropped down to the fourth line with Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini, while Robert Nilsson and Steve MacIntyre completed the list of forwards.


After skating on the fourth line rather than the spot on third that he occupied Sunday night, Gagner was asked for his thoughts on how he's played this pre-season.

"I don't really want to get caught up in lines," Gagner said in the locker room. "It's the way it happened today and tomorrow could be a different thing. For me, I've gotta play the same way no matter what the situation. And maybe in pre-season I didn't play that way.

"It's a new coach, a new system, and maybe I was thinking about that too much," he continued. "At the end of the day, you've still got to play and you've still got to play your game. I realize that now, and it's a good thing you get that through with in pre-season and then I'm feeling good and confident going into the season."

"He's a highly skilled player," GM Steve Tambellini later said. "He maybe hasn't been able to perform to his ability right now. I would trust in Sam's character as an athlete that, when push comes to shove, there won't be any issues with him."

Head Coach Pat Quinn said he has yet to see the Gagner that he's heard so much about.

"You certainly look at history to understand what's going on here," Quinn said. "He did, to my understanding, have a real hot spot a couple of years ago in his first year. It's the start of the third year now -- it's time to start moving that up. I haven't seen that part in camp yet, but most people believe that it's there and it's going to come . . .
Part of our job is to bring all these guys to a higher level, including Sam or anybody else."

When asked about Saturday's line combinations, Quinn said, "For the purposes of preparing for the opening night, that's probably where he's going to start, so we'll see what happens from there."


Word spread quickly around Rexall Place that Rob Schremp had been picked by the New York Islanders early Tuesday morning. Schremp had been placed on waivers after Sunday's victory over the Canucks.

"The short time I was around him, he was a real top individual, his attitude was terrific," Quinn commented. "We bumped into some numbers here of guys that have high skill levels like he does, and so anytime you see a young man getting a chance to play at a top level, you're happy for him."


During his media scrum, Tambellini also confirmed that forward Liam Reddox had been placed on waivers Tuesday morning. Oilers staff later announced that defenceman Theo Peckham was assigned to the Springfield Falcons (AHL).


ALES HEMSKY: Hemsky left practice early due to a pulled groin. No word yet on whether he will play Saturday.

FERNANDO PISANI: The veteran forward continues to suffer from an undisclosed back injury and was absent from Tuesday's practice.

"He had an MRI yesterday, I believe, to get checked and I know he's had a problem before. It's just not allowing him to move very quickly," Tambellini said. "Fernie is going to be quite some time -- an indefinite amount of time is the best probably I can say. He would most likely go on long term injury."

MARC POULIOT: Pouliot continues to be plagued by an injury to his pubic bone and did not skate Tuesday.



The Oilers announced cuts immediately following Sunday's 5-4 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks. The cuts reduced the number of players in camp from 32 to 27 and the number of healthy players to 23 - which is the NHL's required limit.

Being sent down was forwards Jordan Eberle - who was assigned to the WHL's Regina Pats - and Rob Schremp, who was sent to Springfield (AHL). In addition, forward Kip Brennan was sent to the Falcons as well as blueliner Taylor Chorney and goaltender Devan Dubnyk.


Rob Schremp knew he was in tough to make the team when he saw the sheer number of forwards - and NHL-calibre forwards at Oilers camp this season.

"This year's probably been the toughest year since I've been a part of the Oilers," said Schremp. "There's plenty of skill and plenty of checking guys."

Still, Schremp felt he had a good chance. Now he goes on waivers and will find out if another team decides to take a chance on him within the next 24 hours.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say 'yeah'. I want to play in the NHL," he said when asked if he hopes another team claims him on waivers. "If it doesn't happen here, I'll take my chance anywhere."

Pat Quinn said it was real numbers game that resulted in Schremp's departure.

"It's a matter of numbers in a lot of ways. We have a number of guys that have very similar sorts of looks. They're very highly skilled, they play a lot of the game on the outside," he said, noting that Schremp did impress.

"His attitude's terrific. He came here with the thoughts he was going to earn a job," Quinn stated. "He showed us everything he has on that skill-level side and is a highly-skilled kid."

The Oilers bench boss went on to say that the team needed more physical-type players with size to round out a talented lineup.

"We're going to have a Jacques in the lineup, we're going to have a Stone probably in the lineup," Quinn continued. "You have to have a blend, a mix. That's those complementary skillsets that make good teams. You can't have 22 Rob Schremps."


Eberle had his sights set on making the team but knew in the back of his mind that returning to junior was a big possibility. 

"I thought I had a good camp. I look at it as a step towards making the NHL one day," said Eberle.

Just prior to meeting with the media, Eberle spoke with Oilers coaches and management.

"They were extremely happy with how I played in the camp. They saw that I can compete at this level. The main message they gave me was to be a leader and make those players in Regina better players around me."

Pat Quinn explained the rationale behind giving Eberle another year in the WHL.

"With Jordan, he has another year of junior. We wanted him to go back and lead Team Canada and his junior team. We're trying to make the decision in the best interest of him with that junior time left."

Quinn noted that the team was far from disappointed with Eberle's showing in training camp.

"Jordan had a terrific camp," said Quinn. "And so did Rob for that matter."


The moves leave the Oilers with 27 players on the roster currently with four injured.

Injured (4) - Ethan Moreau, Theo Peckham, Fernando Pisani, Marc Pouliot

Forwards (14) - Gilbert Brule, Andrew Cogliano, Mike Comrie, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, J-F Jacques, Steve MacIntyre, Robert Nilsson, Patrick O'Sullivan, Dustin Penner, Liam Reddox, Ryan Stone, Zack Stortini

Defencemen (7) - Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Ladislav Smid, Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios, Jason Strudwick, Lubomir Visnovsky

Goaltenders (2) - Jeff Deslauriers, Nikolai Khabibulin



The Oilers enjoyed one last off-day practice before hosting the Canucks for the final pre-season game of the year Sunday evening. With the exception of Ethan Moreau and Marc Pouliot, who are both out with injuries, the entire squad was present on the ice.

In previous seasons, the line-up for the final pre-season game was a preview of the season's starting roster, however this year, Head Coach Pat Quinn emphasized that evalutations are still underway and Sunday's line-up will not necessarily reflect the regular season squad.

"We've played some guys five times, and rather than grind them, we'll look again at some others that are in the competition up front," Quinn said after practice.

"We're still watching and looking. We haven't stopped evaluating, and we feel that there's a lot of guys that are close. We think that we've got NHL skill past the 12 that we're going to select as far as forwards are concerned. I think our defence is pretty much set ... and probably our goaltending, at this point."


Although Quinn admitted the lines will be shaken up Sunday, Saturday's skate featured Shawn Horcoff between J.F. Jacques and Ales Hemsky on the top line, Patrick O'Sullivan between Dustin Penner and Mike Comrie, and Liam Reddox between Fernando Pisani and Jordan Eberle.


At the tail end of practice, Quinn addressed the players as a group. Though the conversation was beyond earshot of the gathered media, the coach was assertive and animated in his delivery.

When later asked about the meeting, Quinn said the topic of discussion was work habits.

"I've always felt that practices are very important and that you have to execute and look for perfection there because that becomes the habit that you take on the ice during the games," he said.

"It's like any group that's trying to come together to do something that's beautiful: You practice. Talk about a symphony orchestra, for crying out loud. They practice and practice, more than we do, to get it right for performance day. We want to do the same sorts of things as far as our attention to being professional, to improving, to getting better, to getting ourselves ready to play. And that has to happen here."

"As we're seeing the games play on, I think he's seeing some weaknesses in our game that he'd like us to pay a little bit more attention to," Sheldon Souray added. "We're making it probably a little easier on other teams and a little harder on ourselves by some of our play and positioning in the defensive zone, so I think that's been one of the big focuses, especially in today's practice: play hard defensively and we're going to get our chances offensively."

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