Weekend Update: Desperation

Won't someone please think of the children? - Dale MacMillan

A look at the week that was in Oil Country

Desperation is beginning to set it. No, not for the NHL. Not for the NHLPA either, but for the fans.

The temperature is dipping, the snow is beginning to fall (20cm in Calgary Tuesday) but there is no hockey on TV. It’s cold out, but not cold enough for outdoor rinks. There is some snow out, but not enough for sledding of any kind or skiing. So what is a hockey fan to do? There are of course AHL games online and there are WHL games but what about the week nights? That’s where we miss hockey the most. With this week’s lack of negotiations it’s hard to feel sorry for either side, and it certainly doesn’t look hopeful that we will be getting our game back any time soon.

The Oklahoma City Barons however have begun to attract some real attention throughout the hockey world. Featured on the cover of the latest edition of the Hockey News, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and of course Justin Schultz are literally the poster boys for the up and coming Oilers and are giving everyone something to talk about. Schultz has been lighting up his stats page with goals and assists that one can only hope will transfer to the NHL (even though we know we can’t expect it) and Nugent-Hopkins has been winning more faceoffs than we ever would have thought possible after his rookie year in the NHL.

Of course the quality of competition is different, but these are all elite players who came from being among the best in their junior careers to a losing team and for Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle it had to have had a significant impact on their confidence last season with the Oilers, who of course finished once again in the basement. Working with the Baron’s coaching staff, the young Oilers, and Oiler hopefuls should acquire a new found sense of confidence and the skills that will help to make their return to the NHL a success. For up and comers like Martin Marincin, who has been leading the AHL in plus minus, the transition may come a little sooner than some of us had expected. Within a few more months, we should have a better understanding where Marincin fits in with the rest of the prospect defencemen and who he has already surpassed in his development.

The Barons have a game Friday night against the Houston Aeros and a Sunday night showdown against the Texas Stars before once again having the week off for practice.

The Stockton Thunder have a home and away matchup this Friday and Saturday night against the Bakersfield Condors. Playing for the Thunder are Edmonton Oilers’ prospects Tyler Bunz in goal and right wingers Philipe Cornet and Cameron Abney. Bunz is of course in his first professional season and while the puck moving goaltender is still without an assist, I can’t imagine it will be too long before we see his name on the stats sheet.

The Edmonton Oil Kings have had an extended break between games and can’t wait to get back into action Sunday afternoon at Rexall Place. Sunday’s game will be of particular interest to Oiler fans as this game is against the Vancouver Giants and of course will feature 2011 second round draft pick David Musil.

Musil will not be facing up against Oil Kings’ defenceman Martin Gernat however, as had earlier been hoped. It seems as though Gernat’s shoulder rehab is not where it was expected to be, and he will be out of the lineup for an undetermined amount of time.

Lastly, the Edmonton arena project once again has made news this week. No, not because something has changed, or the two sides have come to an agreement, but rather because Edmonton Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz’s rather large contribution to the Alberta Progressive Conservative party has been made public. Katz’s one time contribution was of course a tax write off for the home grown billionaire, but also accounted for half of the party’s total funding. That’s right, half and from only one man.

This donation is being called an attempt to “buy” funding for the arena and has other political parties up in arms. There is speculation that this will kill any hope of receiving provincial funding for the arena. After all, if the man has the money to give away to the government, doesn’t he have the money to spend on his arena project? But of course it is the tax implications of the donation that surely spurred Katz on to make it, and not the thought of buying Alberta politicians to fund a new Edmonton arena. We need to also keep in mind that the PCs didn’t take a landslide victory in the most recent provincial election, and Edmonton is typically seen as a red (liberal) town.

The arena talks have of course still stalled, but the city is investigating the opportunity of building the arena for itself. The rumours are that the new design would be without the winter gardens and pedway, the features that would of course give the design its interesting and alluring oil drop shape. With any luck this project will begin to move forward once again, even if it means that it will be another year behind and another year’s worth of inflation more expensive.

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