SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers close, but don't light those cigars just yet

BOB STAUFFER

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

Not to rain on the parade for Edmonton Oilers fans who are drinking the copper and blue kool-aid down the stretch, but hopefully the Oil and general manager Kevin Lowe don't think everything is good to go for next season.

Granted the young guns - Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson and Tom Gilbert - have been impressive in the final quarter of the season, but the Oilers can't read too much into their late-season run.

Gagner is the real deal and in two or three years will likely be the Oilers top centre. Cogliano is somewhere between a second and third liner. Nilsson will always be one step away from playing four minutes a night if he gets off to a bad start in a game, and Gilbert is a good second-pairing defenceman.

Opposition teams though have been looking past the Oil and likely have been surprised some nights by the game the Oil have brought in lieu of the injuries to Shawn Horcoff, Sheldon Souray, Ethan Moreau and Raffi Torres.

The team has been playing without pressure and hasn't always been getting the opposition's best game. That changes at the start of next season where the expectation level will be getting increased.

Granted the Oilers will be getting the likes of Horcoff and Souray back, but still need to add a legitimate proven second-line scoring presence, more toughness and address the glut of checking centres within the organization like Jarret Stoll, Marty Reasoner, Kyle Brodziak and Marc Pouliot

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Now that we have given the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey program a week or so to bask in the after glow of a third National Championship in the last four years, it's time to move forward.

Head coach Eric Thurston, who has coached the Bears to two University Cup Championships in his three years at the helm of the program, since Rob Daum took a three-year leave, loses four players to graduation.

Canada West MVP and All-Canadian defenceman Harlan Anderson, who signed an amateur try-out contract with the Springfield Falcons will be the biggest loss.

Anderson scored 44 points in 36 games this season, including 30 on the powerplay, and was the best player in the Conference.

Heart-and-soul defenceman Ryan Stempfle, along with point-per-game forward Tim Krymusa and checking forward Richard Hamula also finished up their fifth and final year of eligibility in style.

Of those three, only Krymusa appears to be destined to continue playing, likely in Europe.

Defenceman Ryan White of the Prince Albert Raiders and Scott Jackson, a 2005 second round draft choice of St. Louis who just finished up five years in Seattle, will likely be at the top of Thurston's list of WHL recruits.

Ian McDonald, the University Cup MVP, and Aaron Sorochan, who made 40 saves in the Bears 3-2 victory over the No. 1-ranked University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds in the Gold Medal final - are the two Bears players that the scouts talked the most about from an Alberta perspective in Moncton last week.

With McDonald, Sorochan, Dylan Stanley, Eric Hunter, Derek Ryan, Chad Klassen, Kyle Fecho and Jason Fransoo all expected back next season there stands a good chance that the Bears will be in Thunder Bay for the '09 CIS Cup.

The biggest question surrounding the Bears program will be if Daum returns.

Currently on a one-year contract as an Edmonton Oilers Assistant, Daum is in his third and final year of his three-year leave.

Given that the Oil have overachieved this season, the smart money would suggest that Daum would remain with the Oil in some capacity.

If that is the case, the U of A would have to post Daum's position as head coach of the Golden Bears program.

With two national titles in three years, Thurston would be the only choice.


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