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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Team Interrupted

With the Edmonton Oilers having played so few meaningful games in March and April over the last 14 years, it looked like fans were going to be in for one helluva thrill ride down the stretch drive this season. It’s a stretch that was supposed to end with Game 82 of the regular season against the Calgary Flames Saturday.

But no. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s been a jarring and often frightening jolt of real-life reality. Bigger picture stuff that, it goes without saying, means infinitely more than any game or any series in any sport. All we can do right now is try to stay safe and navigate our way through, hoping hockey will return at some point and that players will play and fans will cheer.

In the smaller picture here in Edmonton, where the Oilers finally looked like they might be capable of getting something done in the 2020 playoffs, the suspension of the NHL season especially sucks, given so many years with just one post-season appearance to get caught up in. So, we wait and hope that there will be more hockey to play, even if it’s summer hockey. We hope there’ll be a way that makes sense for the Stanley Cup to be contested.

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First-year Oilers’ coach Dave Tippett talked about that with the media via a video conference Tuesday from his home in Arizona. Tippett talked about what getting back out on the ice and playing games might mean for this edition of the Oilers, who were looking pretty good at 37-25-9 for 83 points in 71 games when the rinks went dark, moving forward.

WHAT HE SAID

“I think our group is a very motivated group,” Tippett said. “They wanted that learning experience of playing down the stretch. We feel like we’ve earned the right to be a playoff team. Now we want to see what we can do in the playoffs. They’re very excited for that.

“The teams that think they can jump in the playoffs and have a chance, to go on a good run and become a real good team in the playoffs are the teams that I think are going to be the most motivated, and I put our group in that mix.

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“There’s going to be teams that know maybe they don’t have a chance at a playoff spot, so they’ll come back and they’ll play hard because they’re playing for jobs next year, but the teams that are really motivated to go on a good run in the playoffs, those are the ones I think will get the jump. I would like to put our team in that mix.”

Nothing galvanizes a team and creates potential for growth like playoff experience. That’s something the best players Tippett has at his disposal, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, have precious little of – two rounds in 2016-17. Youngsters like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones and Kailer Yamamoto haven’t had that first taste at the NHL level yet. Now, we wait to see if they get it.

TRENDING UP

Nov 24, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“Those are experiences that players go through, especially young players, that they can put in the memory bank,” Tippett said. “As you continue to go through those scenarios, you build up more of that knowledge about what it takes to win in those scenarios.

“There have been teams over the history of the league that they go through those experiences and then they break through. We’d like to have some those experiences. Hopefully, we get our kick at the cat to break through . . . we felt like we made some really good strides this year, but those are lessons that you’d really like to learn.”

No argument here. Those lessons are something, once we get through this COVID-19 crisis, I’m guessing Oilers’ fans would really like to witness after sitting through so many years when there was no chance, none, that was going to happen.

Previously by Robin Brownlee