SUN Hockey Pool

Souray defends home

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

At the time, Sheldon Souray wasn't even part of the Oilers, but he still took it personally.

Last summer, actually for a couple of years, the now-former Montreal Canadiens star heard the negative comments about Edmonton.

He heard players didn't want to go to the city where he lived for a decade.

And, yeah, it started to stick in his craw.

"It's Alberta. It's Edmonton, and it's an awesome city. Calgary is an awesome city. Alberta has a lot of offer anybody who's ever visited or spent a bit of time here," Souray said yesterday.

"The people are unbelievable. Just being able to go to a coffee shop and 10 people say hello. It's that real feeling of everybody's neighbours. It has that real charm.

"I think, wow, a hockey player in a city like this is a great honour. That just justifies a little bit more the decision I made to sign in Edmonton. Not that I needed somebody to say, 'Thanks for coming here,' but I hoped people would be excited there are players who wanted to come to Edmonton."

Souray did. One of the biggest names on the free-agent board when the annual opening of the floodgates began, the product of Elk Point -- northeast of Edmonton -- returned home with a five-year, US$27-million contract.

And he's willing to stop the slagging of Edmonton.

"I had a tough time with how the city was being perceived," said Souray, who suited up against the Flames last night in their pre-season encounter. "I could also understand because they went through a situation where their best player took them to the finals -- (Chris) Pronger -- and him wanting to leave sets the stage and people could ask, 'Why would he want to leave after having that great year?'

"I could understand and see how some guys would think that way, but I would never put myself in that situation."

Don't underestimate what Souray's signing did for the team and its psyche. Flames fans may have found it entertaining when players like Michael Nylander were changing their minds about signing there at the last second or seeing others flee, but imagine what it's like when it's your team.

"It was frustrating, seeing some of the articles and hearing what the media had to say, putting down Edmonton as a place people to come and play," said centre Jarret Stoll.

"It's your team. You want to have a great team and want to win. When Shelly signed, you take a deep breath and a sigh of relief at least somebody wants to come and play here."

But the Oilers didn't sign the 31-year-old defenceman to join Edmonton's Chamber of Commerce.

They signed him to be an integral part of the rebuilding squad.

Last year's edition finished last in the league in offence but should improve in big part because of Souray and his booming point shot. He's coming off a career season in which he scored 26 goals -- three more than all of the Oilers defenceman combined for last year -- and 64 points.

Souray provided an example of what he can do just the other night, blasting a point shot past Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider. It was his first in Oilers silks.

"It doesn't even seem like he tries, but it hops off his stick so hard and so heavy," Stoll said. "I feel sorry for Dustin Penner because he'll be standing in front of the net."

Teammate Kyle Brodziak suffered a bruise on his leg where the puck hit his shinpad.

"Yeah, but they'll benefit from those pucks hitting them," Souray said with a smile. "They'll bounce off their legs and go in."


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