SUN Hockey Pool

Up for the challenge

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

To all those who figured the Edmonton Oilers should have upgraded their goaltending after making significant improvements elsewhere, Ty Conklin has a forceful response.

"We don't need to go get anybody. That's my feeling on it," said Conklin after getting a cleanly shaved dome on the first day of training camp.

"I'll use the first two, three months of the season to prove that we've got what we need here."

When the Oilers latched onto Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, the two Olympians were sizable upgrades, but with free agents like Curtis Joseph available, fans and pundits thought perhaps the club should go out and land a proven No. 1 netminder.

Without a big-name goalie, some believed the Oilers wouldn't make the same strides that, say, the Stanley Cup finalists did with Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin and Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames tending the twine.

"That speculation's fine. Everybody has to prove themselves," figured Conklin.

NOT TOUTING HIMSELF

The 28-year-old enters this camp as the No. 1, in large part because of his play in the last NHL season and also due to 1A puckstopper Jussi Markkanen's broken collarbone. But Conklin isn't touting himself as the main man.

"I'm going to take the same approach to camp regardless of whether Jus got hurt or not,"he said.

"I don't think (the coaches) made any decision on it. I certainly haven't. I'll let my play control what happens."

Other than having his locks brought down to the bone, Conklin will have another slightly different look thanks to the NHL's firm stand on goaltender's equipment. Not that Conklin would ever be confused with Garth "Michelin Man" Snow between the pipes, but he will have a tapered look to him with the 12-inch pads.

"Everything's an adjustment," said Conklin, who's had his new gear for about two weeks. "I think you'll see that it will affect things a little bit. Some people think that goals are just going to pour in and other people think goalies are just going to be quicker so it's going to mean fewer goals.

"I think it's going to be somewhere inbetween. There's going to be a bit more scoring, but I don't think there's going to be a massive difference. I never really wore stuff that impeded moving around. I think I move around a little bit better with the new stuff but it's also smaller.

"Some of the holes might be a bit bigger and in some cases there's new holes open, but I don't think it's going to be a massive change."

Conklin was just getting into a groove when the lockout took him out of action. Coming off a 17-14-4 record with a 2.42 goals-against average in 2003-04, Conklin went to the world championships and was named the top goaltender after posting wins over Russia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. With no NHL to return to, the Alaskan took on a role with German club Wolfsburg and again was dominant, but there was still a feeling of missing out on the real thing.

"It wasn't the NHL so it will be exciting to get back," said Conklin. "I think everybody's looking forward to it. I've been looking forward to it for a while."

The lockout ultimately proved a necessary evil for some to recondition aging bodies. For Conklin, one of the few benefits was getting the chance to start a family as he and his wife are expecting their first child in early December.

"Maybe some of the older guys, it might extend their careers a couple of years," said Conklin. "For other guys, not that they wanted to take the year off, but as far as their health is concerned it's not going to hurt them."

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Having defencemen with the stature of Chris Pronger, Jason Smith and Steve Staios guarding the net can only make life more pleasant for Conklin and Markkanen.

With a viewing of the NHL's video on rule crackdowns under his belt, Smith figured it will take a few pre-season games to get a handle on what will and won't be considered a penalty for clearing the crease.

"We'll have a week of practices and then we'll get into the games and have a chance to adapt to the new rules," said Smith. "We'll get a feeling of where everything is going to be called. I think most of the guys are pretty aware of what the new parameters are and what's going to be expected and hopefully it won't take that long to get adjusted to.

"I think right off the start of camp they're going to call that way in scrimmages, and whether it's for the Joey Moss Cup or not it's important to do."

The major crackdown will be on defencemen loading up the hard cross-check to the lower back and driving forwards away from the goalmouth. Smith expects fellow blueliners will be able to place the sticks on the opponents' hips and push them out but anything more than that will be called.

"It's about position and getting yourself in a spot of strength. You'll have to defend the position and be able to get the puck," said Smith.


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