Body count rises

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

They started the season with so many defencemen they didn't know what to do with all of them.

A quarter of the way through, the Edmonton Oilers don't know what to do with all of the bodies.

Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen, Matt Greene and Mathieu Roy have all been shelved for extended periods this season as the curse of the blueline makes its way through the dressing room. And now, just as Pitkanen returns, Dick Tarnstrom goes down with a concussion.

"I don't know what's going on," said blueliner Ladislav Smid. "It's horrible. All the defencemen. Second year in a row."

"You're like, 'when is it going to end?' " added Tom Gilbert.

Tarnstrom, who was knocked out after a hit from six-foot-three, 246-pound Chicago blueliner Dustin Byfuglien, was still feeling a little groggy yesterday.

"I think I hit my head into the boards," shrugged Tarnstrom, who doesn't remember too much of what happened after the hit. "I knew he was coming, but I still had to make the play. He kind of caught me off balance, after I shot the puck. He hit me good, he's a big dude."

LOSS OF WORDS

He, like his defencemen, is at a loss to explain all the injuries.

"It's been a tough year like that, but hopefully this isn't going to take long," he said, adding he's not sure how long he'll be out of the lineup.

"I have no idea, I'll just take it a day at a time. It doesn't feel too good right now."

The bad luck, however, has opened the door for Springfield Falcons' call-up Allan Rourke, who hasn't disappointed.

He's been strong and steady in his emergency relief role, drawing high praise from head coach Craig MacTavish.

"I know my role here; I'm here because of injuries," said Rourke. "When guys get healthy I'm more than likely not going to play. So when I do get an opportunity I have to make the most out of it. It's unfortunate what happened to Dick, but it's an opportunity to show I can play here.

"You always want to have confidence in yourself. I've played a little bit before (in the NHL) - 30, 40 games. I always thought I could play, but you never know till you come up and do it."

Good thing he can. With nine NHL-calibre defencemen in training camp, nobody would have dreamed the Oilers would be scrambling for blueliners in November. But they are.

"It's tough for a team to go through it, especially with some of the guys who are hurt," said Rourke. "Those are big name players out of the lineup."

KEEP THEIR HEADS UP

And the ones who aren't need to keep their heads up.

"I've learned my lesson the hard way,"said Gilbert, concussed last season after a big hit from Jody Shelley.

"I've been conscious of when to make a play, how to protect myself better, always be aware of when I'm going to get hit."


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