Stoll-ing for time?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Jarret Stoll has been looking forward to this night - opening night at Rexall Place - since last spring's incredible stretch drive fell one game short of the playoffs.

He hadn't even taken his equipment off after that heartbreaking loss in Vancouver when he swore that things would be different next year.

Well, next year is here, the puck drops on another season at 7 p.m., and Stoll was dead right.

Things are very different.

The NHL, a league he spent a lifetime trying to reach, is gone, out of sight and out of mind until the work stoppage is over, and he's suddenly back in the minors.

Instead of sitting between Ryan Smyth and Steve Staios in the Oilers dressing room, he's down the hall in the visitor digs, flanked by Rocky Thompson and Dan Smith.

For who knows how long.

"People say 'The lockout can't go the whole year, can it?' " said the 22-year-old centre, who thought he'd seen the last of the American Hockey League after a breakthrough 2003-04 season with the Oilers.

"Well, it doesn't have to go a whole year, it just has to go a couple more months, till January, then it is the whole year. It's scary."

Parachuting into the Edmonton Road Runners lineup is not the ideal situation for a player who was just getting comfortable in the NHL, but it's better than sitting on the couch waiting for the lockout to end, like all those union members who are collecting rust right now.

"My contract says I should be here so I'm here working on things and trying to help the team win," said Stoll.

"That's my main goal and my main focus. It has to be on the team and nothing else.

"I try and be aware of what's going on (with the CBA), but what, really, can I do?

"I'm just going to try and play and when it does get solved, hopefully soon enough, I'll be ready to go.

"For the time being I'm making the best of it.

"It's a different situation, a bit of a different atmosphere, but some things never change: Being around the guys, throwing the puck around, those things are always the same no matter where you are."

A year in the AHL will not benefit Stoll's development like a year in the NHL would, but he still sees several positives that can be spun from the overall negative created by the lockout.

"I can work on different parts of my game." he said. "Trying to get quicker, awareness on the ice, confidence in certain situations by being out there in those situations. Last year I was maybe looked upon as a defensive guy, but here I can work on the offensive side as well as keep working on the defence."

As the only Oiler on the Road Runners, Stoll goes from supporting cast member in the NHL to one of the marquee guys in the A. It's a role that he says will also help make him better in the long run.

"You want to be out there in those key situations," he said. "It really helps with your confidence when you're put in those spots and you succeed. I think playing here will give me that confidence and I can keep it rolling."

Regardless of wherever he's played, or at what level, opening night has always sent a rush of nervous excitement through Stoll, and the Runners debut tonight is no different.

"The first game is always exciting, but this one is extra special because it's the first game for the Edmonton Road Runners, a new era in Edmonton for hockey. The fans here love their hockey; for them not to have hockey would have been really tough."


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