SUN Hockey Pool

Pressure no problem for the kids

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Mama told them there'd be days like this.

Just not this many. And not this intense.

Rookies Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert and Andrew Cogliano knew they were about to experience a whole new world of pressure when they slipped on those Oilers sweaters for the first time -- and not just because it's hard to look good in unfinished pyjama tops.

They were stepping into one of the most rabid environments in the NHL. They might as well have been Green Bay Packers. Or Boston Red Sox.

"The pressure is unbelieveable," said Cogliano. "I experienced a little something like this at World Juniors, but when you have a whole city pulling for you and wanting you to do well, where everything is about hockey, it's something you have to get used to."

All three of them experienced slumps and losses along the way at NCAA Wisconsin and Michigan and with London in the OHL, but nothing like the spitstorm that blew through the dressing room after Edmonton's 3-0 loss to San Jose.

Or the urgency staring them in the face tonight against the Dallas Stars, or the black cloud that will likely be tailing them from now until the end of their season on April 3.

"I've been on teams that have struggled at times," said Gagner. "But obviously everything is heightened here. We're in the NHL and it's a hockey-crazed city. There's going to be added pressure."

At Michigan, the hockey Wolverines take a back seat to football and basketball. In Edmonton, the Oilers trump everything. They're all over the newspapers, television and radio, always on the front burner of conversation.

Lose a few in a row and the water in that fishbowl gets awfully hot.

"It's good for me, I'm learning each and every day how the city reacts to every game," said Gilbert. "It's tough, but it's our job and it's something that you have to get used to. This is a hockey city. When you're not winning, it's not as fun. But winning here is a lot better than other places."

Or so they've heard.

There hasn't been a whole lot of winning going on lately, which only intensifies their situation.

"It's tough, it's like every game is a playoff game," said Gilbert. "For us young guys, it's new for us, where every game is so important. In college it's not like that. You know you're going to make the playoffs. Here, you make one mistake, a goal goes in and you lose by a goal ..."

The team has been beaten up pretty badly over the last few days. Booed by fans, reminded by the media every day just what a longshot they are to make the playoffs. It's enough to break a guy's spirit.

"It was pretty tough ... it was pretty down on Wednesday," adds Cogliano. "(Thursday) seems a lot better. The older guys are making sure everyone is upbeat because that loss took a lot of energy out of us."

Edmonton's next generation is a pretty close-knit group. They live together and hang out together, so when one of them is wrestling with something, there's always someone close by who knows exactly what he's going through.

"It's a good fit for us, we're all pretty good friends and we're able to talk about anything," said Gagner. "And the veterans here are pretty easy- going guys to talk to, too.

"They're passing the message on to us that this is our season coming up right here. Every game is huge for us. We can't have any mental errors. We realize what's at stake right now."

No pressure.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Gagner, who wouldn't even dream of complaining. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who'd like to be in my position right now."


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