For years it’s been a tradition to have the Oilers rookies take on the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The two teams squared off 26 times since 1988 (a short hiatus between 2009-12) and this annual game often allows fans and media alike to get their first live looks at the future of the club.
Over the course of the past few years, the likes of Jordan Eberle, Darnell Nurse, and Oscar Klefbom have made appearances. Fans have been especially spoiled over the past three years with Draisaitl, McDavid, and Puljujarvi all getting into the lineup.
This year, things were a little different. It was the first time in three years that the game didn’t feature a top 5 pick from the previous draft. Also, the Golden Bears were no longer the opponent instead an all star team from NAIT and Grant MacEwan took on the team of Oilers prospects.
The organization only had roughly 16 sections open for fans to sit and if you were expecting the place to be packed with Oilers fans, you would have been disappointed. While there was a healthy dose of Oilers jerseys in the crowd, most of the people I chatted with came simply to support their schools.
The atmosphere in the rink was solid. The sections weren’t jammed packed, but the crowd had a bit of college atmosphere that was captured perfectly when a group of students were shown chugging two or three drinks at a time on the big screen. Nothing says college like drinking on a Wednesday!
Despite their clear underdog status, the NAIT/MacEwan All Star Team didn’t make a ton of mistakes and just kept things simple. They capitalized on the few opportunities they got and although at times it appeared they were just hanging on by a thread, they deserve a tonne of credit just for keeping this game close, never mind coming away with the win.
Of course, a bulk of the praise needs to go to the two goalies. Marc-Olivier Daigle and Nathan Park both played outstanding, splitting 49 saves in the shutout effort.
As for the Oilers prospects, they just didn’t look comfortable for most of the game, despite dominating the play. I mean, all you had to do was look at the shot clock once to final buzzer went to see just how much of the play was in the NAIT/MacEwan end. But the Oilers made multiple passes that missed by a few inches and forced too many cute plays. They basically played the exact opposite style of play that NAIT/MacEwan did.
You could pick out a few negatives, but you could also find a good amount of positives with some of the individuals in the Oilers lineup.
Most fans, including myself, paid extra attention to Kailer Yamamoto who, despite having a bit of an off night, showed some flashes of his strong hockey sense throughout the game. He just oozes potential and the thought of his creativity one day being on a line with #97 has me drooling.
Like I said, Yamamoto did have some rough patches throughout the game. He was sent to the box twice in the middle frame and seemed frustrated. There were also a few plays where he was caught a step ahead going into the offensive zone and couldn’t quite drag his leg enough to keep the play alive. *insert cliche height joke*
Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones were playing on the same pair for most of the game and based on the way these two worked, you’d swear they’d been playing together for the past decade. They worked the blue line very well in the offensive zone and when they were on the ice, they controlled the play.
I always felt like expectations needed to be tempered when it came to these two, but I believe the hype now. These two guys are going to be legit and I’m giddy about it.
Joseph Gambardella had a solid night as well. He wore the ‘C’ for this one and was definitely one of the Oilers better forwards. He had some solid offensive looks, most notably a shorthanded breakaway in the second period in which he couldn’t quite slide his shot through the pads of Marc-Olivier Daigle.
As the game continued and the Oilers chances piled up, you could tell they were beginning to get frustrated. William Lagesson was playing like there was literally two crucial points on the line. He drove the net hard a few times in the third and whenever there was a scrum after the whistle, you knew the big Swede was going to be right in the middle of it.
Oil Kings forward Trey Fix-Wolansky really turned on the jets in the third period as well making two Connor McDavid like rushes through the neutral zone, and I don’t throw that term around loosely. He gained speed and created a couple really nice looks that came dangerously close to tying this game up.
In the end, despite throwing everything they had at the NAIT/MacEwan All Star, the Oilers couldn’t buy a goal. It was really as exciting as a 2-0 game can get and provided a good look at some players who may get lost in the shuffle once the main camp begins.
Speaking of the main camp, being back in Rogers Place watching hockey increased my excitement for the upcoming season tenfold. Can we please fast forward to October 4th yet?