Edmonton awaits Pronger's return

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 9:23 PM ET

Frigid temperatures dipped to minus-20C in Edmonton yesterday, but not even Mother Nature's icy clutches could stop the emotions of rabid Oilers supporters from heating up.

There are, after all, only three days remaining until Chris Pronger -- aka Public Enemy No. 1 in the City of Champions -- returns to Rexall Place.

Let the countdown begin.

The much-anticipated meeting between the Anaheim Ducks and the Oilers Tuesday marks Pronger's first visit to Edmonton since the veteran defenceman asked to be traded during the summer.

The two teams did lock horns in Orange County back on Oct. 25 with the Ducks prevailing 6-2.

Pronger had three assists and was the game's first star, but that didn't stop the handful of Oil faithful who flew down for the game from booing him at every opportunity.

He hasn't heard anything yet.

Anticipation for Pronger's return continues to snowball with each passing day.

Since TSN and Sportsnet are not broadcasting the contest, the matchup easily will be the most-watched game ever shown on Oilers pay-per-view, Oilers vice president of communications and broadcast Allan Watt said yesterday.

"This is 12-inch putt, "Watt said with a laugh during a phone interview from Edmonton. "People have had this game circled on the calendar for a long time. It's a marketing dream."

Watt said the previous high in terms of subscriptions for an Oilers pay-per-view came during Mark Messier's retirement ceremony in New York.

"The time zone worked against us for that one, "Watt said. "With us being two hours behind, people were still in their cars driving home from work battling traffic when that one started.

"I've noticed in the community that everyone is already talking about this one."

The game, which has been sold out for months, will also be broadcast in three Edmonton-area movie theatres. Expect the jeers to be loud when Pronger is shown on the 50-foot-high screens.

Pronger's familiar No. 44, by the way, was worn by former London Knights forward Robbie Schremp during training camp.

Asked about all the Pronger No. 44 jerseys owned by embittered Oiler backers, Schremp told reporters: "They can just throw a 'Schremp' on there."

Second-tier tickets were being advertised for $160 a pop in the classifieds of local Edmonton newspapers yesterday.

WHAT ABOUT BOB?

Remember last season when then-Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn ripped into Bob Hartley, accusing the Atlanta Thrashers bench boss of using alleged goon tactics?

Quinn was livid after the Thrashers' Andy Sutton smeared Darcy Tucker's head into the glass, earning a four-game suspension for his efforts.

Claiming he was getting a bad rap, Hartley this week tried to play the role of the good guy during Wednesday's punchup between Atlanta and the Washington Capitals. Hartley was upset that Caps coach Glen Hanlon sent Donald Brashear and a number of other heavyweights out on the ice late in the game, presumably to stir things up.

"Last year we were accused of murder and we never did anything like this," Hartley said.

Referring to Hanlon, he added: "I've never seen a coach freak out like this is my entire career."

Hanlon reportedly attempted to zip from the Caps bench to the Thrashers locker room after the game.

"This guy is an Olympic runner," Hartley said.

ZEBRA HUNT

Leafs coach Paul Maurice wasn't the only one livid with the officiating this week after watching a flurry of hooking penalties called during Toronto's 7-4 loss in Buffalo Wednesday.

Normally mellow Minnesota Wild bench boss Jacques Lemaire was steamed at referees Mick McGeough and Wes McCauley, especially after Radek Bonk scored the winner in a 4-2 Montreal Canadiens victory.Lemaire and his teammates were infuriated that the goal counted, feeling Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom had covered the puck with his glove during a goal-mouth scramble without the whistle being blown.

"I understand why coaches get fined $10,000, but what they're saying, they're right," Lemaire said, just moments after stomping off the ice while eyeballing McGeough.

CROSS CHECKS

The Oilers likely will have to ante up about $5 million US per season if they want to keep pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Smyth. "I'm no pushover," said Smyth, an Alberta kid who claims he won't take a hometown discount. "I have been for many years and I believe this is the time to make a statement." ... On the same night Pronger returns to Edmonton, Ducks teammate Scott Niedermayer is scheduled to play in career Game No. 1,000. We're betting the Oil fans will be too preoccupied to care.


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