SUN Hockey Pool

Fresh unwrapping

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

His enthusiasm seems real.

It's also real important.

Craig MacTavish is giving his new, unbelievably young and incredibly inexperienced, hockey team every indication he's pumped about their possibilities going into tonight's season lid-lifter.

And he's doing so, not just with words, but by showing them with every move he makes that he's not going to be coaching scared.

From the outside, this has to look a little bit loonie. OK, a lot.

You look at the Oilers' last 20 games and the schedule for their first 20 this year and listen to Brian Burke talking about Kevin Lowe's "colossal stupidity" and running his team "into a sewer" and you have to wonder what got into the water in Edmonton.

And remember, MacTavish, Lowe and most members of the Edmonton media were telling you at this time last year that the Oilers were going to fill the net and ended up with the lowest number of snipes in the entire NHL.

If you were new to the scene it might be fair to figure there to be a bit of a credibility gap there.

But on the eve of opening the season against the San Jose Sharks - a team many are picking to win the Stanley Cup - MacTavish couldn't be any more up.

The consensus "most improved team in the league" Philadelphia Flyers are here Saturday. Then the Oilers visit perennial power Detroit and Minnesota, a team they only managed to beat twice last year in eight tries. And then it's home-and-home with Vancouver, another team they only managed to beat twice in eight games.

Fourteen of their first 22 games are against teams in their own division - teams they managed to win only 11 of 32 games against last year.

And they are doing it with a team which includes the following and their number of games of NHL experience:

- Kyle Brodziak, 16

- Andrew Cogliano, 0.

- Sam Gagner, 0.

- Tom Gilbert, 12

- Denis Grebeshkov, 33

- J.F. Jacques, 44

- Robert Nilsson, 57

- Dustin Penner, 101

- Marc Pouliot, 54

It's something when you make a list of them like that, isn't it?

Which brings up the question.

Why is this man smiling?

"I think we're ready," said MacTavish after the final practice prior to tonight's puck drop at Rexall Place.

"Everybody is feeling good about ourselves.

"We're energized and enthusiastic. We're confident of our ability to win.

"Everybody is excited."

There's a lot of that, of course, around the league when everybody is 0-0 (or in this case everybody but Anaheim and Los Angeles, who are 1-1.)

"It's my favorite time of year," said MacTavish.

"To see guys about to play their first NHL games ..."

But that schedule to start the season, coach?

"You know, the way the league is right now, there aren't too many weak teams. And it's important to develop the confidence you can win against anybody."

Bring it on, he said.

The veterans say they put those last 20 games and last season as a whole behind them back in the spring.

"In hockey, you have to have a short memory. With everything which was involved late last year, it was easy to forget about," said Shawn Horcoff.

"Everything is fresh in here. Everything is new. We're not going to look back. And with all this young talent here, it's easy to move on," said Jarret Stoll.

"It's been a long summer and it's great to go into this season with a team which is fresh, young and fast. It's even a little overwhelming.

"We're hoping for new energy and that the young faces are going to be an advantage early on," said Steve Staios.

MacTavish is clearly coaching his team to head into this season ready to have a lot of fun.

"There's not too much pressure. We want them to play relaxed on offence and to create. It's not as rigid as it was in the past."

No place for a nervous person.


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