As far as I'm concerned the hockey season started tonight when the Oilers Rookies took to the ice at Clare Drake Arena to take on the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Of course the Rookies had already played three games - all losses - but it's this game that really kicks off the season in my mind. Played consecutively for 22 years from 1988 through 2009 this game, more often than not, provided the first real opportunity to see the next (far too often over hyped) prospect in action.It was something that I looked forward to every year. For the last three seasons, however, the game has not been payed, and I've had to find my start of the season fix elsewhere. Tonight though the game was back.
If you've never watched at the Clare Drake it's a quirky little arena. The benches are opposite each other, but the penalty boxes are both on the visitors side of the rink. With a capacity just north of 3,000 the atmosphere is nothing like what you get at Rexall Place either. Tonight, unlike in seasons past, the crowd was also very pro U of A, and that crowd had something to cheer about early when the Golden Bears took the lead less than three minutes into the opening frame when Sean Ringrose beat Oilers starting goalie Tyler Bunz to the glove side, finishing off a quick transition two-on-one.
The Golden Bears lead would be short lived though, with the Oilers drawing even with the man advantage in the fourth minute of play. The first goal of the night came as a result of a quick transition and a nice pass. The second goal was nowhere near as nice, with the puck first taking an odd bounce off the glass that almost fooled Bears goalie Kurtis Mucha, and then Mucha got most of Gregory Chase's shot from the slot, but not quite enough to keep the puck from crossing the goal line. It doesn't matter how they go in, just that they do I guess.
The Oilers took the lead shortly after the ten minute mark when Brandon Baddock's shot snuck past Mucha and just inside the far post. Neither of the Oilers first period goals were what you'd call pretty, but neither was exactly Mucha's fault either. That said, after leading the CIS in both goals against average and save percentage last season, those are not the kind of plays U of A fans were used to seeing result in goals against. Another Ringrose goal would draw the teams even before the end of the first period, with the shots totalling 12-10 in favour of Alberta.
Early in the second period Jordan Rowley gave the Golden Bears their second lead of the game. That is the sum total of what I know about that goal as I was in line for beer when it was scored. The line was interesting though with some discussion of funding cuts at the U of A. And then there was the beer itself. I opted for a SAAZ Republic Pils from Big Rock. Not a bad beer at all, and at a cost of just $5 for a 473mL can (16oz for my American friends) you really can't go wrong. This and Big Rock's IPA (not a beer I recommend) are new at Golden Bears games this season.
With my beer about one-third done the Golden Bears extended their lead to two goals on Ringrose's third goal of the evening. Unfortunately the goal was originally awarded to Johnny Lazo, not Ringrose, and so no hats were thrown. Lazo, like Ringrose who assisted on the Rowley goal earlier in the period, managed to record a point on all four Golden Bears goals tonight. As Bruce McCurdy mused, perhaps these guys should get an invite to training camp.
The final goal of the evening would go the the Reid Petryk, bringing the Oilers within one. But after a combined seven goals in just over a half a game the two team locked things down and scored no more goal the rest of the way. Some undisciplined penalties late in the third hurt the Oilers chance of a comeback, not to mention gave the U of A a two-man advantage that could have easily sealed their fate, but this was a game that the Golden Bears controlled for most of the night and never really looked to be in danger of losing.
Brandon Davidson. This is a guy that you can't not root for. And on this night he might have been the Oilers best defenceman. Nothing flashy, just solid shift after shift.
Darnell Nurse moving the puck up the ice. This was my first chance to see the Oilers newest first round pick live and the way he moved the puck was something I didn't really expect. Going forward was a lot prettier than his going in reverse tonight.
Games with no-touch icing and no television timeouts. I always forget how quickly hockey can be played if you want it to be quick. Two hours and five minutes from start to finish. I dream of NHL games being payed at that pace.
The Oilers forwards. Basically a list of nobodies. Of course the Oilers best young forwards are already in the NHL, but tonight's lineup was just downright ugly with only a couple of players who could even be considered prospects. I hope this game is played again next season and that the Oilers choose to send hockey players to it.
Cam Abney. Words just can't describe it.
The full training camp starts tomorrow with fitness tests and physicals. On Thursday the players actually hit the ice, and then the Oilers and Flames play a pair of split squad games on Saturday.