A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Shawn Horcoff’s face as he addressed the media for the first time in the 2011/2012 season. He had just wrapped up his medical, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that bead of sweat also represented how he felt about his team.
Entering his second season as captain, Horcoff has to be feeling some pressure to ensure his team improves on their 30th place finish. He won’t have to carry the leadership role alone this year with the addition of Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger, Andy Sutton and Ben Eager, but as captain he is still the first guy to face the music and there will be more pressure and expectations this season.
"The last couple years were the most trying of my pro career by far, from both as a team in the standings and the injuries that I’ve had," said Horcoff. "I hope they are behind me. I’m healthy, and we’ve had a long offseason. I’m looking forward to building off where I started last year.
"In terms of a team, a realistic goal for us has to be trying to make the playoffs. The only way to get these young kids ready, develop them for the next level and make them become better players is they have to play in big games. They have to play important games in March, sometimes February, because that’s a whole other level when you are battling for the playoffs."
It is clear the Oilers want to be in the playoff hunt come February, and they better be, or the management and coaches will be on the hot seat. Having spoken with Steve Tambellini, Tom Renney and many others within the organization this week it is clear they have higher expectations and they recognize that it is time to start climbing towards respectability again.
Renney won’t be as patient this year as he was last and Horcoff feels his coach should have more outlets to find success.
"I think one thing Tom is going to have this year is we are pretty deep up front, especially our top nine forwards. Even though we are young there is some offensive talent there. As players you’d like to find some chemistry, especially early in camp, and later in camp you want to start playing with the guys you are going to start the season with to try and build that chemistry."
No word yet on who is playing with who tomorrow. I spoke with Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Gilbert Brule and Sam Gagner and none of them had yet to see who they were skating with. They will find out later this afternoon, but I could sense they were all excited to see who they’d start with.
Horcoff won’t be playing with Eric Belanger, but he feels the free agent signing will make a huge impact on faceoffs.
"It’s going to nice to have him. He is proven to be a good guy in the faceoff. If you are going to be a good team you need at least two guys who can go. It is to hard for one guy to carry that. They are hard minutes in the D zone, to go out there and battle and then come back to the bench, so you don’t get the rest that your linemates do. On top of that you can’t just count on two guys. All of our centremen need to improve on where we were last year."
Unlike last year, where the motto of camp and the season was to be patient, this year they will have some realistic expectations to compete. The long road to being competitive starts tomorrow on the ice, and Horcoff plans on making that point clear very early.
"Our guys need to know what it takes to win. We have to find that early, even in the preseason, and build on it. Losing can’t be acceptable this season."
- Ales Hemsky will skate tomorrow, but he won’t take part in any contact drills for at least another week. His shoulder needs another week and they don’t want to rush anything. He won’t play in the first four preseason games this coming week.
- Draft picks Samu Perhonen, Frans Tuohimaa, Travis Ewanyk (shoulder injury), Dillon Simpson (NCAA) and Oscar Klefbom (coming off injury, committed to his SEL contract) will not be in camp.
- The Oilers will have six goalies in camp. Khabibulin, Dubnyk, Danis, LeNeveu, Bunz and Roy.
- They have 18 D-men. Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Barker, Peckham, Sutton, Petry, Chorney, Tuebert, Plante, Potter, Blain, Davidson, Fedun, Gernat, Marincin, Motin and Musil.
- And 35 forwards: Horcoff, Smyth, Hemsky, Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Gagner, Omark, Belanger, Jones, Eager, Brule, Hordichuk, Nugent-Hopkins, Lander, Hartikainen, Tyrvainen, Petrell, Vande Velde, O’Marra, Abney, Arcobello, Cornet, Czerwonka, Hamilton, House, Keller, Kytnar, Martindale, Pelss, Pitlick, Rajala, Rieder, Tremblay and former Oiler Josh Green.
- As of 1 p.m. the players didn’t know which session they would be with tomorrow or their linemates. They will find out later this afternoon.
****Kirill Tulopov is also going to be at camp. There will be a few more guys on tryouts as well. ***