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That’s More Like It

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Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
5 months ago
The rig-hand outfits the Edmonton Oilers wore when they entered Commonwealth Stadium Sunday were a fitting touch for the spectacle that was the 2023 Heritage Classic, but it’s the shift they put in for 60 minutes on the way to a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames that mattered.
With Connor McDavid back in the line-up, the Oilers had way more costume game than the Flames, who showed up shirtless and wearing jean coveralls and cowboy boots – sort of a Village People vibe. And they were better at puck drop on the way to snapping a four-game losing streak in front of a crowd of 55,411.
It’s been 20 years since the Oilers lost to the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in the frigid first edition of this game in 2003, and it’s been a long time since a crowd this big witnessed a win by the home team in this stadium, but Jay Woodcroft’s team produced it on picture-perfect evening for this kind of event.
The Oilers are 2-5-1 and while there’s more work to be done, this was more than just a novelty event to remember. Evander Kane, who had a goal and two assists, was physically engaged virtually every shift and is finding his game after a slow start. Local lad Stuart Skinner made 24 saves for his first win of this season. Big Vincent Desharnais, who looked right at home in that oilfield gear, scored his first NHL goal with a bank shot that made its way past Jacob Markstrom for a 4-2 lead. The Oilers scored four even-strength goals.

GETTING A FOOTHOLD

Oct 28, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Edmonton Oilers centre Dreki Ryan (10) along with Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl (29) walk toward the ice as fan 11 year old Ashlyn Boyd gets a fist bump frokm Leon during practice day for the 2023 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
“It’s very unique, because I’m from Edmonton,” Skinner said. “I grew up watching all the games here, from the Eskimos to the Elks. So, to be able to actually be part of something, it’s pretty remarkable. Very near and dear to my heart. After the game I was able to look up, look at the fans and really enjoy it for a minute or two. It was very special. I’m very, very grateful.”
While one win doesn’t constitute a turnaround the way the Oilers stumbled out of the gate, Woodcroft liked what he saw Sunday on a quiet evening for McDavid, who had one assist in his return from a two-game absence.
The Oilers led wire-to-wire. When the Flames pushed back, the Oilers bent but didn’t buckle. Their defensive play was such that Skinner didn’t have to be ridiculously good. Zach Hyman didn’t pound the Flames physically with the gusto Kane did, but he scored 1-1-2. Leon Draisaitl was a horse, logging 24:55.
“We got into some penalty trouble, but the way we came out and asserted ourselves, the way we wanted to play, it looked like us tonight,” Woodcroft said of being shorthanded six times, including twice by two men in the first period. “It looked like us and it’s a credit to our players.
“We have a lot of proud people in our organization, and no one’s been happy with the way we started the season. I just think we got playing a certain way. It was a big night for our city, a big night for our organization.”

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