Thoughts of thundering back

BOB STAUFFER

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

Hopes spring eternal for the Edmonton Oilers as main training camp opened yesterday.

And even though many of the pundits have picked the Oil to finish somewhere between 11th to 14th in the Western Conference standings, the Oilers could surprise because of a couple of reasons:

SHAPED UP ...

To begin with, this team is in shape - both mentally and physically - heading into this season.

Last fall, several Oilers players still wore the war wounds from their extended play-off run in 2005-06 that saw some them play into the third week of June.

Losing in the Stanley Cup Final also had to be emotionally devastating as well. A veteran Oiler told me last October that he may never get over losing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup to Carolina.

After going through a brutal 2006-07 campaign that became an unmitigated disaster down the stretch, Oiler players had ample time to get in shape.

It has been well documented that 10 to 15 players spent time down in Redondo Beach, California, with trainer Chad Moreau.

Trust me when I say this, these guys arrived back in town chiseled.

The players took their off-season seriously and GM Kevin Lowe's comment to the effect of "we will be among the fittest teams in the NHL" has to be taken for its word.

Mentally the players are back in the game as well. These guys have something to prove!

There are no false illusions after finishing last in the league in scoring and only winning two of their final 20 games.

The fact that several key leaders for the Oilers didn't play down the stretch like Ethan Moreau, Jarret Stoll and Steve Staios works as a benefit as well. These guys want to restore some pride in their organization and show pundits and players around the league that the Oilers are not the team that was in free-fall mode at the end of last season.

SANDWICHES ...

There is another reason why I think the Oilers could surprise this season: The opposition will be taking them lightly.

In 2006-07, the Oil were defending Western Conference champions.

Through the first 60 games of last season - before the wheels fell off - many teams got up to face the Oilers.

After last season the Oilers might be an afterthought for teams traveling to the West.

Take a look at, say, a trip into Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver - the Oilers are your classic NCAA football "Sandwich" game.

Put yourself in the shoes of an NHL head coach- do you start your No. 1 goalie against Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary and Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and maybe rest him against a combination of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon? That is way I would be thinking.

This could bode well for the Oilers with some match-ups at home against No. 2 goaltenders.

SPEAKING OF GOALIES ...

Lowe said on no uncertain terms on Thursday on Total Sports that Roloson is the No. 1 goaltender for the team heading into the season, with Garon being a very capable back-up.

In my mind, Roloson was money for about the first 50 or so games last season, and then fatigued.

My guess is that head coach Craig MacTavish has far more confidence in Garon then he ever had with Jussi Markkanen or the Oilers wouldn't have signed him.

There is no need for Roloson to see action in 68 games like he did last season.

A 51-31 split would work for me.

QUICK HITS

- For the uneducated out there the Alberta Golden Bears SHOULD beat the Edmonton Oilers Rookies.

The Bears are an actual team, with system play and maturity.

In my opinion, Golden Bears freshman defenceman Jason Fransoo was the best player on the ice in Alberta 2-1 victory Monday night.

By the way, in case you wondered, the last time Alberta played the Edmonton Oil Kings - which was back in 1970 - they smoked them 10-1.

And that was before the Bears were recruiting four or five of top 20-year-old WHL graduates to their program each year.

- In the sometimes you are so smart you are actually stupid category, see New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.


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