Show me the love

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

So there was Joey Moss dropping the puck for the opening face-off before the national anthem.

Then there was the dressing room attendant returning at the end of the game as a Zamboni passenger, wearing white gloves and holding the Joey Moss Cup high.

By the time the players returned to the dressing room, Moss had the vacuum cleaner going in the dressing room. But that's another story. Last night the story was 6,423 fans at an intrasquad game.

"You know you're back in Edmonton when you draw more fans for an intrasquad game that we drew in Sweden for any home game last year," said Shawn Horcoff of the 4,500 arena in Mora.

OK. Normally there aren't 6,423 fans for the Joey Moss Cup. Normally the game is not broadcast live by Hockey Hall of Fame announcer Rod Phillips on 630 CHED. Normally print coverage amounts to a paragraph. Sidebar, tops. And normally Joey doesn't wear the white gloves and ride in on the Zamboni.

But this isn't normally. This is the return of the game and the first look anywhere around the league at the NHL new rules and the new landscape which, in the Oilers' case, includes Chris Pronger and Michael Peca. Not to mention Ryan Smyth with a new contract keeping an Oiler star in town past his free agent expiry date.

HUGE CHEERS

Smyth, with a new two-year, $7 million contract in his pocket, received huge cheers on introduction.

"It was nice to see the fans out there like that after what we went through during the CBA," said Smyth, who had to cancel a tour of NHL players part way through a planned tour of Western Canada because they couldn't draw a tenth of that to the opening game in Red Deer.

There were also cheers for Pronger and Peca, of course. And one boo.

Pronger, late in the first period, had a less-than-impressive shift, turning the puck over in front of his own net. The former Norris Trophy winner heard his first boo in the building. It was like delivering the message 'Hey love, ya, Chris. But around here it's tough love.'

"Fans are fickle," laughed the former St. Louis Blue who has felt the love here since the day he signed.

It was a fun night, other than that part at the end where they tried out the shootout and had to keep going until they finally found an Oiler who could score.

This was the first test drive of the new rules in full game conditions and I'm not sure you'd buy it off the test drive alone. It wasn't 'holy cow, wow, is this great now.'

While the tape of the game is going directly to the NHL this morning for evaluation, the Oilers used local officials, not NHL officials, who have been in deep mind-bending on how to call the new rules for weeks.

"It was the only time the officials ever came over to the bench, unsolicited, and asked me how they were doing," quipped Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"I don't imagine I'll see that happen again.

"The real test will be Friday when the NHL officials are here," he said of the first pre-season game against the Calgary Flames.

At first look MacTavish said he liked just about everything.

"It definitely opens up the ice a bit. It's definitely less congested out there." MacTavish added it was easy to see how much Smyth and Georges Laraque should benefit from the lack of obstruction in front of the net.

GOING TO BE GONE

"If that was an indication the clutching and grabbing is going to be gone now," said Smyth. "I really noticed it on the power plays. You know that crosscheck on the back? I didn't feel it. That'll really make a difference with Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk, Chris Prong ... hold it. He's on our team now."


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