SUN Hockey Pool

Injury bug opens door

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Allan Rourke knows he's a filler.

The moment some of the Edmonton Oilers defencemen are ready to get back in the lineup he'll be on the first plane to Springfield.

It's not an easy role, but it's one the 27-year-old Mississauga native is filling admirably.

"I feel good," Rourke said following a lengthy practice yesterday. "I felt good even in my first game. I was a little nervous, but to be honest, I get a little nervous every game.

"It's good I'm getting comfortable out there and keeping things simple, getting the puck out, getting the puck in, sort of thing."

FOUR GAMES

Rourke has played four games for the Oilers since being called up from the Springfield Falcons. He has yet to record a point in those four games, but is averaging just over 10 minutes of ice-time with a minus-one rating.

"He's playing well," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "He backs in a little bit sometimes, but he getting hit by the puck and he's blocking shots. At times he gets a little vulnerable in his positioning but he blocks the shot.

"I can't really think of a mistake that he's made. He tried a backhand pass across the ice that didn't work out well, but other than that, he's been pretty much flawless. He gets out there and plays mistake-free hockey for 10, 11 or 12 minutes - that's valuable."

Rourke is getting an opportunity to play with the Oilers because of injuries to Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen, Matt Greene and Mathieu Roy on the blue-line.

Originally, Rourke was the Toronto Maple Leafs sixth choice - 154th overall - in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.

The six-foot-two, 215-pound defenceman spent three years with the Leafs' AHL affiliate in St. John's before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Harold Druken in 2003.

Rourke played 25 games for the Hurricanes in 2003-2004 scoring a goal and adding two assists.

Following the 2004-2005 season, he signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders, spending most of his time with their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

This off-season he was traded to Edmonton along with a second-round pick for a third-round choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

The Oilers needed the pick to tender an offer to restricted free-agent Dustin Penner.

In 12 games with the Falcons this season Rourke had three goals and four assists with six penalty minutes.

"He's got some experience," MacTavish said. "I think what was obvious to me in the first game that he played in Calgary is that he's got a head and knows how to play and he knows his game. In a lot of ways that's what you're trying to teach young players is to manage their game relative to their ability and he's quite clearly able to do that."

With so many defencemen in the mix this season, which included high-profile acquisitions such as Souray and Pitkanen, Rourke knew his chances of making the team out of training camp were slim.

Yet injuries have opened the door and he's getting a chance to make an impression.

WORKING HARD

"Injuries are part of the game, you never want to see them happen," he said. "If you keep working hard down there (in Springfield), if guys get hurt up here you have to be ready to go.

"In Springfield (head coach Kelly Buchberger) was pushing everyone really hard and everyone is ready. We're working really hard down there and we're doing a lot of good things, so we're ready to come up when guys do go down."

At first the Oilers called up Bryan Young to fill the void on the blue-line, but he was quickly sent back to Springfield.

The Oilers are currently getting more out of Rourke.

"I'm filling a role, I'm filling that sixth spot pretty much and I know my role," he said. "I know it's not a big one and whether I play 10 minutes or two minutes, I have to stay positive ... be ready on the bench and when they call my name be ready to go."


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