Waiting for his fix

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

From Fort McMurray to Piestany and back to lacing skates for the Whitemud Thunder, nobody can accuse Craig MacTavish of assuming a position on the recliner and waiting for his fix to come to him.

The Edmonton Oilers' coach has been in search of a gig since the NHL lockout put the brakes on his day job 98 sleeps ago. It's a safe bet he's been tossing and turning all the way.

MacTavish, like many who've had their careers interrupted since Gary Bettman slapped padlocks on NHL rinks, talks about expanding his horizons and doing the get-a-life thing, but it doesn't wash here.

With the 12 hours or so a day he'd normally spend at the rink wide open, MacTavish travelled to Fort McMurray to run practice for the Oil Barons of the AJHL. He jumped a jet for Slovakia and the Lotto Cup with Team Canada's coaching staff and returned Sunday after a 20-hour travel day with a bronze medal to show for his efforts.

Now he's back with Whitemud, where a youngster named Sean MacTavish benefits from his coach's know-how in a league where dad's obsession with fundamentals comes in handy.

Just yesterday, MacTavish was back skulking around the Oilers' dressing room and huddling with Billy Moores. Up to no good, I'd guess. Probably plotting yet another coaching caper.

What's next, MacT?

"Hopefully, the Edmonton Oilers," smiles MacTavish. "I think everybody is waiting for the finality, to get to the 11th hour and see if we can cut a deal and save the season. It looks now like that's when a deal is going to be made or broken. We're all in a state of limbo."

Like a reporter in search of a free buffet, there's no keeping MacTavish from his calling. Only a fool would try.

The problem, unless Bettman and Bob Goodenow start playing footsie at the bargaining table pretty soon, is his calling won't come with the Oilers in what was supposed to be the 2004-05 season.

"Hockey is hockey," MacTavish said. "Any experience you get in the game is beneficial. I don't care what level it is, it's all beneficial. As a coach, we're all works in progress."

MacTavish, Moores, Craig Simpson and Charlie Huddy, who has been helping the AHL Road Runners in practice, made a hop up to give Gord Thibodeau a hand with the Oil Barons.

He joined the staff of head coach Marc Habscheid for the four-team Lotto Cup, not exactly a tournament anybody outside of those participating cares about in this neck of the hockey woods.

A golf vacation? A Caribbean cruise? No thanks, off to Piestany, best known as the site of the infamous punch-up at the 1987 World Junior Tournament.

"I enjoyed the experience completely," MacTavish said. "I was really impressed with the way Hockey Canada operates and how well they look after the players they bring in."

Chances are, MacTavish will soon be looking for his fix again, unless Bettman and Goodenow get after it. Really, what are the odds of that?

"I don't think anybody can forecast how it's going to go," said MacTavish of the impasse. "I think both sides want to make a deal and get back to playing, but it's too close to call.

"You miss the adrenaline you get from the game. That's the thing we and the players miss the most. It's the competition and the interaction with teammates. It's what we do."

Thankfully, there are power plays and penalty killing schemes to diagram with the Thunder. There are rink rats to question for scouting reports on opponents in the local Atom loop. MacTavish can immerse himself in Whitemud's drive to the playoffs. That'll take some of the edge off.

"Everybody makes the playoffs," says MacTavish.

Tough break, coach.


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