Hit fails to slow rook

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Sam Gagner passed the physical. The Oilers rookie took his first solid NHL hit last night, got up, and went on to pick up a pair of assists in a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche.

"It was a good, solid hit, which hurt him," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"He was slow getting up, but he's a tough kid. After that I thought we responded well. J.F. (Jacques) went out there and took a penalty, but I didn't have a problem with the penalty he took out there."

BELTED BY FINGERS

Gagner, 18, was belted by Avalanche defencemen Jeff Fingers in the first period as the two jostled for a loose puck at the side of the Colorado net.

Gagner, who was slow to get up, went straight to the Oilers bench. And while no one on the ice at the time reacted to the hit, Jacques did head straight for Fingers on his next shift to voice his disapproval.

"He caught me lunging for the puck a little bit and he stepped into me," Gagner said. "I think more than anything it maybe woke me up. Getting a good hit like that early in the game can do that and it got me more ready to battle.

"It was a good hit, it stung a little bit, but for the most part it was all right."

Last night was the first time this season the five-foot-11, 191-pound forward has been drilled by an NHL opponent.

He responded by sending Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner away on a two-on-one for the Oilers first goal, then made the centring pass which resulted in the third goal.

"If you're not ready for it, there are big hits like that at every level," Gagner said.

"Obviously the guys here are a lot stronger and have a lot more force. It feels good to have that first one over with and it's too bad we couldn't come out with the win."

Last night's contest was Gagner's eighth with the Oilers this season. It's obvious he's staying here beyond the nine-game trial period. After 10 games NHL teams must pay a junior player his full NHL salary even if they decided to send him back later on in the year.

THE KID BELONGS

"Everybody realizes that he belongs at this level, he just keeps getting better," MacTavish said. "He's always looking for more ice time. He wants more and more responsibility, feels like he's capable of more and based on the way that he's playing he's going to get more."


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