Conks' out

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

DENVER -- After all those years in college, in the minors and as a backup in the NHL, Ty Conklin finally landed the starting job he'd been waiting for his whole career.

These were supposed to be the Days of Twine and Roses.

Instead, it's been Grapes of Wrath from disgruntled and impatient Oilers fans, who've made the struggling netminder a primary target for their anger, worry and scorn.

At least something's hitting him.

"When one of your goalies consistently doesn't play well, or hasn't so far this year, obviously those questions are going to come up,'' said Conklin, who's as disappointed in himself as everyone else is.

A WHOLE BUNCH OF IFS

"If I was lighting it up, standing on my head, there wouldn't be those questions.''

But he hasn't, and there are.

Does he have what it takes to be a No. 1?

Should the Oilers give up the experiment and deal for a proven starter?

And is there any way we can blame the power play on him, too?

As much as he tries to ignore the criticism, or tune it out, there's no hiding from a 4.39 goals against average in Edmonton. He was looking more and more rattled each game.

So, in the best interests of a fragile situation and a plummeting team, Conklin is a Hamilton Bulldog, trying to rediscover the talent and confidence that abandoned him at the worst possible time.

"I need to get some games in and it's probably not going to happen up here,'' said the 29-year-old, who agreed to the conditioning stint because it's the only way he can play himself out of this mess.

"I can understand Mac's hesitation to put me in right now the way the team is going.

''I know he wants to let me work out of it, but in the meantime you have to have results, too.''

DESPERATE PLEAS FOR HELP

The results, if you haven't been paying attention to the desperate pleas for help on the call-in shows, are six straight losses.

They haven't all been Conklin's fault, but enough of them are, and the Oilers can't afford to lose any more ground while he tries to figure this out on the fly.

Mike Morrison, who was sensational, but didn't bring a good enough contract to training camp, will be called up in Conklin's absence.

Conklin blames his problems on a big five-hole between his ears.

"I'm not playing with a whole lot of confidence right now and it's pretty evident in my game,'' he said.

"I just need to feel good about myself.

''It's one of those things where you go out and it's, 'Christ, is the puck going to hit me today? I hope it does.'

''I don't want to feel like that, I want it to be I know the puck is going to hit me today.''

It's frustrating for a guy who led the Oilers on a terrific stretch run last season and has played brilliantly for the Americans in recent international competitions.

"The most disturbing thing for me is not knowing, not really having an answer for it,'' said Conklin, who's never blamed his defencemen or hidden behind an excuse.

"If there was some glitch or something that I wasn't doing, that would be one thing, but I feel good when I go out there and the puck's still finding a way to go into the net.

"I need to get a little confidence, play some games.

''I'm looking at it as a good thing. Hopefully go down there, work hard, play well, and come back up here and help the team.''

NO EASY ROAD

It wasn't an easy road to an NHL starting job in the first place. And it might not be that east to get it back.

But Conklin fought hard for it the first time and he's ready to do it again, even if it means riding the buses in Hamilton for a while.

"It's not like I've never gone through a time where I haven't played well. And it's probably not the last time I'll go through it,'' he said. "You try to approach it like a pro, deal with it how you've dealt with it, get after it how you gotten after it in the past.

"When it goes, it goes. But the good thing is that it doesn't take long to get it back.''


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