SUN Hockey Pool

You're in, kid

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

SAN JOSE -- There wasn't any time for an easy transition from the AHL to the bigs. No time to slowly get his feet wet with the Oilers.

Nope. With Edmonton's defencemen dropping like teenagers in a Friday the 13th sequel, rookie Tom Gilbert had to dive right into the Shark- infested waters of the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

The Oilers rang him up Tuesday and he flew all day, checked into the hotel that night, got up for the morning skate and a few hours later was staring down the barrel of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo.

The big blueliner barely even had time to get nervous.

"It was just a matter of getting packed up in time,'' said the six-foot-three, 210-pounder, who caught a flight from Wilkes-Barre to San Jose. "I only had a half-hour.

"It was a little unexpected, but a nice surprise," he said. "It's a big chance for me to show what I can do on the ice."

Gilbert, who's been having a fantastic rookie season in the AHL (3-17-20 with 24 PIM in 33 games), was pressed into action after Steve Staios (flu) joined Daniel Tjarnqvist (groin) and Ladislav Smid (shoulder) on the hurt parade.

"Gilbert is a guy we think can help us and we want to find out how soon," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "Hopefully we accelerate his development by giving him some opportunity."

That's how Gilbert, a Minnesota native who came to Edmonton in the 2004 Tommy Salo deal with Colorado (Salo and Edmonton's sixth-round pick to the Avs), sees it.

"I like playing in front of a big crowd. It's exciting. The first NHL game is exciting. It's a good opportunity for me."

Having made a quick and rather seamless jump from college, where he scored the winning goal in Wisconsin's NCAA championship last year, to the AHL, he hopes he can take the next big step as well.

Looking across the ice and seeing former Wisconsin teammate Joe Pavelski flourishing in his rookie season with the Sharks gives him even more reason to believe. "It's definitely a good sign for me to know that if he can do it, I can do it," said Gilbert, who wore No. 77 yesterday.


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