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Off the Top of My Head: Mattias Ekholm returns, remembering Chris Snow, and Steve Staios

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
6 months ago
When Mattias Ekholm led the team stretch before the Edmonton Oilers practiced Friday morning to applause from his teammates, you knew he had a pretty good chance of getting back into the line-up against the Vancouver Canucks Saturday.
Sure enough, there he was when the anthem ended and the gate swung open last night at Rogers Place with the Oilers looking for payback after an 8-1 speed-bagging from the Canucks Wednesday with Ekholm still on the shelf with a strained hip flexor that kept him out of training camp and pre-season.
As badly as the Oilers played top-to-bottom Wednesday, Ekholm wasn’t going to change the outcome in the season-opener for both teams. Still, as we saw after Ekholm arrived by way of trade from Nashville last season, there’s no question the Oilers are better with the big Swede on the blueline than without him.
What we got last night with Ekholm back in a pairing alongside Evan Bouchard, his regular partner last spring during a stretch in which the Oilers went 18-2-1, was an improvement on opening night but it still wasn’t close to good enough in a 4-3 loss to the Canucks that has the Oilers off to an 0-2 start.

READY TO GO

“You don’t want to miss games whether it’s pre-season or regular season, but at least they don’t matter as much,” Ekholm said after the morning skate. “So that has probably helped it a little bit. But at the same time, it’s about to get ready now, so that takes a little bit of both the mental and physical aspects of it. I’m doing my best and I’m trying to get back in there.”
Ekholm wasn’t in top form, no surprise there, after missing camp and pre-season. He logged 15:47 and finished a minus-1 after getting beat by Sam Lafferty on the 4-3 goal. The Oilers need Ekholm up to speed pronto and they could use a save or two from Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell for however long that takes.
“Realistically, he has not seen any pre-season hockey games,” coach Jay Woodcroft said going into last night. “He’s walking into his first game of the year. We’ve got to understand that. His advantage is that he’s the age that he is, the elite thinker that he is, and no one knows the game or himself better than Mattias, so he’s one person I don’t worry about.
“It’s not just on the ice, it’s off the ice too. He says the right things, he does the right things, and he has an effect on others. Not having him for the last month or so, you felt it and we’re excited that he’s back.”

ABOUT CHRIS

PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY CALGARY FLAMES
The Calgary Flames held a tribute before their season opener Wednesday for former assistant GM Chris Snow, who passed away at 42 after a long and courageous battle with ALS.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Face-off wrote a brilliant piece about Snow last week, sharing his story through the eyes of his former boss, Calgary GM Brad Treliving, who is now running the show in Toronto. Following is an excerpt from that item, which can be found here.
“You could tell the change around Chris was immediate. Kelsie, Cohen and Willa were at the Draft in Vancouver and they decided to drive back to Calgary. It was an easy flight, but they wanted to spend time and go through the Rocky Mountains. It was one of those moments that set in for me.
“My message to him was pretty clear. I told him at the Draft that the least important thing in the world was the Calgary Flames. ‘Snowy, forget about this, this is the last thing you need to worry about, go spend time with your family.” And so we had that first conversation and then many times regularly after that, and he would push back hard.
“He’d say: ‘Do not take this away from me. You have to trust me. Yes, I’m not going to miss anything with my family, but I’m not going to sit at home and look at my four walls all day. The kids are in school. Am I just going to sit there and think about this disease? I need this. I need to keep my mind active. This does bring me joy, this is my passion.’”
Chris is survived by his wife Kelsie and two children — son Cohen and daughter Willa. 

STAIOS IN THE FOLD

Former Oiler Steve Staios, who left his job in Edmonton as an advisor in hockey ops in September to join the Ottawa Senators, hasn’t wasted any time settling into his role as president of hockey operations with the Sens.
It was Staios who announced Friday that former Sens captain and hall-of-famer Daniel Alfredsson is returning to Ottawa in a player development role – what the role is, exactly, isn’t clear at this time, but that doesn’t bother Staios.
“Never mind, he’s Daniel Alfredsson, but I look at his character and his hockey acumen and I was eager to get him in wherever he wanted,” said Staios, always the straight-shooter.

WORTH REPEATING

“I think the big thing that I personally wanted to see out of our team was a response. I thought there were a lot of good things in our game. We’re not in the moral victory business, I know that, but I saw a response.” – Woodcroft

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